Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced Tuesday that he plans to submit a bill to repeal the death penalty sometime this week, making supporters all but certain of its passage.
“The death penalty is expensive, it does not work,” said O’Malley, who was flanked by civil rights advocates and repeal supporters, at a news conference in Annapolis. “I believe we have the will [to repeal it] in the Senate, and I believe we have the will in the House.”
Death penalty repeal has been an ongoing effort for more than a decade, and the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, because the regulations governing capital punishment were ruled unconstitutional by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Capital cases are generally far more expensive to prosecute than noncapital murder cases –– about $1.9 million versus $650,000.
The governor last sponsored a bill for repeal in 2009, when the legislation was amended to keep the death penalty in cases in which there was DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime being committed.
O’Malley had not previously specified whether he would sponsor repeal legislation, although he has long supported eliminating the death penalty.
Under the current proposal, the death penalty would be replaced with life imprisonment without parole.
The NAACP also is supporting the measure, and the organization’s president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, said the effort in Maryland is a stepping-stone to repeal at the national level.
“That’s how we get from Maryland to Georgia, and from Maryland to Texas,” Jealous said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) has said that he would allow a repeal bill to the floor, as long as O’Malley can get the votes to pass it.
“I’ve felt for two years that if we could get it to the floor, we could get it passed,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. “And that was before all this momentum.”
Both the Senate and the Judicial Proceedings Committee are within one vote of passing a repeal bill, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chair of the committee, where the bill will be heard.
“The governor makes a difference,” said Frosh, who is supporting repeal. “He can work to sway those votes.”
Even if there are not enough votes on the committee of 11, Frosh said there are three or four ways to get the bill to the floor of the Senate.
One vote still up in the air is Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who sits on Judicial Proceedings.
“I’m not sure where I’m at right now,” said Zirkin, who is an attorney and said that while he understands the argument for repeal, he has seen some cases in which the death penalty might be appropriate. “I’ve never been comfortable with the death penalty, but I’ve never been comfortable without it.”
Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), another member of the committee, is opposed to repeal because he wants to make sure that prosecutors still have the death penalty as a bargaining tool when working out plea deals.
“If you start with death, you ultimately get life without parole,” Brochin said. “If you start with life without parole, then you end up with life, and depending on who the governor is, sometimes life doesn’t really mean life. I’m very disappointed the Senate president is going to circumvent committee procedure.”
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) of Takoma Park, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has been a perennial supporter of repeal.
“The stars seem to be aligning for this bill,” Raskin said. “The governor is making it clear that it’s an idea whose time has come.”