Death penalty repeal gets hearing but lacks momentum

The Washington Post

Much of the same cast of characters from previous debates over repealing Maryland’s death penalty were present in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

At the hearing, those speaking in favor of this year’s repeal bill included Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Maryland death row inmate later exonerated by DNA evidence. Those opposed included Scott Shellenberger (D), the state’s attorney for Baltimore County, the Maryland jurisdiction which has sent more inmates to death row than any other.

Representatives of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, the Maryland Catholic Conference and the American Civil Liberties Union were all on hand as well — as they have been in recent years.

Yet Tuesday’s hearing lacked the drama of those during the first term of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), when he made abolishing capital punishment a priority.

This year, O’Malley has not put much muscle behind the bill. House leaders seem unlikely to embrace it. And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) told reporters Tuesday that the interest isn’t there in his chamber.

“I don’t believe there’s a sentiment in the Senate to repeal,” Miller said.

Part of the reason remains an uneasy truce reached in 2009, under which higher evidentiary standards are required in capital cases.

Those are now limited to those that include at least one of three types of evidence: DNA or biological evidence, a videotaped confes­sion or a videotape linking the suspect to the crime.

In arguing for a repeal of the death penalty, one witness, American University Law School professor David Aaronson, said the “ambiguous and vague” terms of the 2009 laws is likely to invite a wave of litigation.

Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since December 2006, when the state’s highest court ruled that regulations on lethal injection had not been properly adopted. New regulations have still not been implemented.