On May 2, 2013, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty, and the 18th state – along with the District of Columbia – that has rejected capital punishment. Maryland is the first Southern state to forgo executions in nearly half a century, joining West Virginia, with its 1964 repeal, as the only states below the Mason-Dixon Line without capital punishment on the books.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who has been fighting the state’s death penalty with legislative efforts since 2007, and who signed the repeal bill, said in a press release, “Maryland has effectively eliminated a policy that is proven not to work. Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias, and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole.” He added, “Furthermore, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death.”

The death penalty repeal, which goes into effect on
October 1, 2013, does not explicitly apply to the five men currently on
Maryland’s death row. The state’s last execution took place in 2005 when
Governor Robert Ehrlich was in office. Present law allows the governor to
commute the condemned prisoners’ sentences to life without parole, and O’Malley
has said he will consider doing so on a case-by-case basis.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who was the first
person in the U.S. to be freed from death row based on DNA evidence, attended
the signing ceremony for the repeal bill. “Twenty-eight years ago I was
sitting in a death row cell, and it became clear to me that we could execute an
innocent man,” he stated. Bloodsworth, who was wrongly sentenced to death
for the murder of a 9-year-old girl, said at a news conference, “No
innocent person will ever be executed in this state again.”

Whether the repeal of the death penalty will actually go
into effect, however, is uncertain. Opponents of the repeal are working to
gather 55,736 signatures by June 30, and if successful Maryland’s death penalty
would go to the voters to decide in a referendum in the November 2014
elections. State Delegate Neil Parrott, a Republican lawmaker who is among
those leading the referendum drive, vowed to keep fighting for capital
punishment. Most polls indicate that Maryland voters are almost evenly split on
the issue.

Alba Morales, a U.S. criminal justice researcher with
Human Rights Watch, hailed Governor O’Malley’s efforts. “Maryland did the
right thing by ending government-sanctioned killing. The 32 states that still
allow the death penalty should follow Maryland’s lead and end this inhumane
practice.”

Capital punishment in the United States has been on
the decline for several years, with 43 executions in 2012 and 3,170 prisoners
on death rows nationwide, compared with 52 executions and 3,297 death-sentenced
prisoners in 2009. Since 1973, 142 people who were wrongfully convicted and
sentenced to death have been released.

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Sources: https://abcnews.go.com/, Baltimore Sun,
www.cnn.com, www.correctionsone.com, www.hrw.org, www.huffingtonpost.com,
www.washingtonpost.com, www.death

penaltyinfo.org

(First published by Prison Legal News and used here by permission)

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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