O'Malley's death penalty stall
It's been four years since the last legal execution in Maryland. If Gov. Martin O'Malley has his way, it will be the last.
The governor is an ardent foe of capital punishment. He has placed a de facto moratorium on executions since entering office in 2007. In the past three legislative sessions he actively attempted to kill capital punishment.
While he didn't have the votes, he did persuade the General Assembly to narrow the grounds for legal executions to the point that few, if any, capital trials will take place.
He also made sure the state took its good old time coming up with guidelines and regulations dictating how the state's ultimate punishment will be administered.
Now the O'Malley Stall is being abetted by the co-chairs of a legislative panel who have used their positions to further delay implementation of the new rules and procedures.
Del. Anne Healey and Sen. Paul Pinsky, both Democrats from Prince George's County, say these new procedures aren't explicit enough and contain "serious flaws." They also question the three-drug protocol for lethal injections outlined in the regulations.
Here's a prediction: When the O'Malley administration finally gets around to developing a response to the Healey-Pinsky missive which probably will take an inordinate amount of time the answers won't satisfy the anti-death penalty lawmakers. They will ask during the next General Assembly session for further revisions.
Then it will be back yet again to the drawing boards for the governor's minions. They will somehow manage to put off release of those revised revisions of the new regulations until late next year after the November elections.
And with O'Malley then ensconced in the governor's mansion for a second and final term, he can officially announce a death penalty moratorium as he presses for abolition.
There's only one thing wrong with this scenario: It violates the governor's oath of office. The law is the law. It is the governor's duty to enforce the laws as they exist whether he likes them or not.
The O'Malley Stall has gone on for three years. He took his cue from a December 2006 Court of Appeals ruling that said the state must properly adopt regulations for lethal injections. That has become an excuse for dithering that shows no signs of ending.
And as is often noted in judicial decisions, "Justice delayed is justice denied."
It has become ridiculously difficult to present a death penalty case that can withstand the perfection demanded by judges and lawmakers. One minor misstep and the defendant gets a new trial.
Recently, we have reached a higher level of absurdity. Attorneys for a convicted murderer now charged with killing a House of Correction prison guard have adopted a "kitchen sink" strategy for saving their client from death row.
They sought to subpoena all of the state's 24 elected local prosecutors to show how unevenly death cases are handled. They demanded that the local Anne Arundel County state's attorney appear as a witness to show that Maryland's law is arbitrary and capricious.
They claim the newly amended death penalty law is illogically selective: It would not apply to someone who guns down young children as they leave school if there's no DNA evidence or photos of the crime. Only if the murderer is caught on tape or there's a DNA match does he qualify for capital punishment.
That means neither Adolf Hitler nor Osama bin Laden would get the death penalty in Maryland. Instead, taxpayers would be stuck paying millions of dollars to keep mass murderers alive in state prison.
It's ironic that despite the death penalty abolition movement, the public continues to favor capital punishment. That's one reason the Maryland Senate remains sharply divided on the question. It could become a much talked-about issue in next year's elections.
Supporters of retaining the death penalty claim it is a deterrent and prevents horrific crimes. It gives hardened criminals pause before they act. Without a threat of lethal punishment, prison murders of inmates and guards could become commonplace. What would someone already serving a life sentence have to fear?
Foes of capital punishment are unwavering in their belief that such an act is morally and ethically wrong, despite the biblical decree "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth ..." (which appears three times in the Old Testament and also is reflected in the Quran.)
The country remains split on this question. Maryland, for instance, has executed just five people in the past 31 years, while Texas has sent 334 individuals to their death in the past 12 years.
Nor will this dispute disappear. Every legislative session has its share of death penalty bills. Given the unending maze of legal barriers erected in Maryland, there's a good chance that at some point the abolition advocates will wear down the other side and win their fight.
But that may not set well with the American majority that favors retaining the death penalty. They view increasingly violent acts on our streets and in our cities with growing alarm.
So even if death penalty foes win their argument, the political disputes will not cease. They may even grow in intensity.
Barry Rascovar is a State House columnist and a communications consultant. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.