Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced he is seeking repeal of the death penalty in the state, drawing the praise of the human rights community.

“The death penalty does not work in terms of preventing violent crime,” the Democratic governor said Jan. 15 at a news conference, where he was surrounded by anti-capital punishment legislators, law enforcement officials and activists.

States with the death penalty tend to have higher homicide rates, which undercuts claims that it acts as a deterrent, O’Malley said. And, not only does it not work, but it is expensive, he said, wasting much-needed funds during economically trying times.

“It would seem to me that, especially in tough times, if there is something that we’re doing through our government that is expensive, and does not work, then we should stop doing it,” he said.

He added, “Every dollar we choose to spend on an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we’re not spending on crime-fighting technologies and tools that actually work. Investing in law enforcement, data-driven policing, performance measurement, strengthening partnerships, investing in the latest crime fighting technologies, DNA analysis – these are the ways we drive down crime.”

The second-term governor also cited moral considerations in his decision to introduce the legislation. In 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, led by former U. S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, found that at least one of every 8.7 persons sent to death row has been exonerated. The commission also found racial bias in the use of the ultimate punishment.

This is the second time O’Malley has introduced legislation to abolish capital punishment in Maryland. In 2009, the push stalled when the bill was held back in committee. Death penalty opponents say they are determined to see an end to the death penalty this year and will push for a referendum on the issue if the measure is stymied in the General Assembly again.

“The death penalty has failed Maryland,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, president/CEO of the NAACP, which has been an avid death penalty opponent. “It does not deter crime and is used almost exclusively on the poor.”

“Across Maryland, people have come to understand how ineffective and unfair the death penalty is,” added Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland state conference of the NAACP, in a statment. “This issue is important to our constituency in Maryland and we are determined to make sure the legislature acts this year to put an end to capital punishment.”

O’Malley’s bill, Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriation of Saving to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims, would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill also would earmark $500,000 annually to aid surviving family members of murder victims. The funding would come from savings in the state general fund realized by ending death penalty prosecutions.

If Maryland passes the measure, it would become the sixth U.S. state to discard the death penalty in recent years, following New York (2004), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2010) and Connecticut (2011).

“Governor O’Malley has been a firm supporter of ending the death penalty for many years, and we are pleased that he has made the issue one of his top priorities for this legislative session,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, in a statement. “His renewed leadership puts us on track to finally end capital punishment in our state.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO