Joining key Maryland legislators with civil rights and community activists one day before the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes, national leaders of the NAACP met January 10 to position Maryland as the next state in the nation to do away with capital punishment.

“We know that when you seek the death penalty instead of life without the possibility of parole you literally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more that could have been spent on getting more killers off the street,” said Benjamin Jealous, National President and CEO of the NAACP.

To date, 16 states have struck the death penalty from the books, with Illinois becoming the latest to adopt the legislation. Reinstated in 1978, the death penalty has continued to cause much controversy in that those who are most likely to die at the hands of this state are Black men. Studies from 2003 completed by the University of Maryland show that even though nearly 75 percent of all murder victims in the state are Black, “blacks who kill whites are 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kill whites, and 3.5 times more likely than blacks who kill blacks.”

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment acknowledged a number of liabilities within the state’s system of capital punishment in 2008, which led to the Maryland death penalty reforms of 2009, “Racial bias continues to infect the Maryland death penalty system,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.

With public interest in the trial and execution of Troy Davis dying down, death penalty abolitionists are working endlessly to keep support for the effort alive. Certainly not the first man put to death under questionable circumstances, Davis was executed in Georgia last year even after seven witnesses recanted their testimonies that placed a gun in his hand moments before a young police officer was shot and killed.

Kirk Noble Bloodsworth knows all too well the fatal consequences of eye witness misidentification, which accounts for nearly 75 percent of all wrongful convictions according to The Innocence Project, a national organization working to exonerate innocent prisoners.

“It was the most horrible feeling you could ever imagine when that paper that they slip kind of floats under your door. It is the warrant for your execution. It means you will be killed by lethal gas,” said Bloodsworth, “I was lucky, after almost nine years in prison, I was released. Ten years after that, the real killer was caught,” said Bloodsworth.

An honorably discharged Marine and commercial fisherman, Bloodsworth was wrongly convicted in 1985 of the rape and murder of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton. Bloodsworth was the first man not only in Maryland, but in America, to be exonerated from death row by DNA testing in 1993. Though paid $300,000-roughly $92 a day- by the State of Maryland for income he would have made while sitting in prison Bloodsworth can never get back the 3,247 days of life he spent trapped in a penitentiary nightmare.

“We spend an average of $700,000 to keep someone in jail for the rest of their lives but up to $2.5 million to execute them,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president of advocacy and director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau. “Legislators are seeing that being smart on crime means putting the resources on the front end to prevent the crime from happening in the first place rather than the back end,” said Shelton.

With state budgets across the nation being stretched paper thin, there are children who need better education, firehouses without enough funding to keep communities safe, and recreation facing new management or closure because the cities can’t afford to effectively run them. Surely there are better things to do with the millions of dollars it takes to end one life by lethal injection.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer