General Assembly to take on death penalty repeal
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 12:59

6th District representatives oppose repeal

by Nicole Rodman

    On Jan. 15, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his intention to sponsor legislation to end the death penalty in Maryland.
    At a news conference in Annapolis, O’Malley told reporters that he is confident that he has the votes in the General Assembly to pass a death penalty repeal bill.
    “I believe there is the will in the Senate. I believe there is the will in the House,” he said.
    The governor also noted that he is not concerned if repeal is put up for referendum in 2014.
    “I don’t fear the judgment of the people of Maryland,” he noted.

During his announcement, O’Malley was surrounded by repeal prononents, including NAACP president Ben Jealous.
    According to Jealous, the NAACP is working nationwide to eliminate capital punishment.
    O’Malley’s planned repeal legislation, which has not yet been delivered to the General Assembly, is his first attempt to abolish the death penalty since 2009.
    During that year’s session, O’Malley’s repeal efforts ended in a compromise which restricted the use of the death penalty to cases in which there is DNA evidence or a taped confession.
    This year, O’Malley is determined to see the death penalty completely abolished.
    “It would seem to me that especially in tough times, if there’s something we’re doing in our government ... that is expensive and does not work, we should stop doing it,” he explained during last week’s news conference.
    While O’Malley has not sponsored death penalty repeal since 2009, repeal bills have stalled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for several years.
    This year, repeal proponents are hoping that O’Malley’s sponsorship will help propel the bill out of committee and into floor votes in both houses of the General Assembly.
    For his part, state Sen. Norman Stone (6th District), who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, does not favor death penalty repeal.
    In remarks to The Eagle last week, Stone rejected O’Malley’s argument that the death penalty is ineffective.
    “I think [the death penalty] has some deterrent value,” Stone explained.
    He continued, “We will never know how many people didn’t commit murder because of the death penalty.”
     While Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a repeal opponent, has signalled his willingness to let the repeal bill come to the floor, Stone is not convinced that the bill will be voted out of committee.
    “Almost every year [death penalty repeal] has been in; I just don’t think it will [pass],” Stone explained.
    Stone himself plans to vote against the bill leaving committee.
    As he sees it, his vote is a reflection of the will of his constituents.
    “I think if you did a poll, people probably favor it,” Stone explained.
    He continued, “I think most people think that it is a deterrent, even if experts do tell you it isn’t.”
    For his part, 6th District Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick also opposes death penalty repeal.
    In a statement released to The Eagle by aide Suzanne White, Minnick stated, “I am opposed to abolishing the death penalty.”
    He continued, “Tragically, as we have witnessed, there are cases in our society that warrant its use. The school massacre in Connecticut immediately comes to mind.”
    Likewise, Minnick’s fellow 6th District delegate, John Olszewski Jr., also opposes full repeal.
    Olszewski did support 2009 legislation restricting death penalty use to cases in which DNA evidence or a taped confession is available.
    “I supported this legislation because I think the government should take every precaution to ensure that an innocent person is never put to death,” he wrote to The Eagle last Friday, adding, “It was DNA evidence, for example, that proved Mr. Kirk Bloodworth was innocent of a crime for which he was convicted but did not commit.”
    Bloodsworth was convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in Rosedale in 1984 and was later released from death row and exonerated after DNA fingerprinting proved his innocence.
    While Olszewski did support restricting the death penalty, he does not support its full repeal.
    “I do not support a full repeal because I feel that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty might be warranted,” he explained, adding, “In Maryland, the only death penalty-eligible cases are now first degree murder and must meet the new standards of evidence.”
    Also, Olszewski noted, repealing the death penalty may make it harder for prosecutors to do their jobs properly.
    “Repeal would mean that there is no additional action that can be taken in the event of murder by an inmate already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole (whether they kill another inmate or a prison guard), and takes away a great bargaining tool that prosecutors use very effectively to put very bad people in prison for a long time or the rest of their lives.”
    Olzewski also explained that repeal is opposed by Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Schellenberger, who, as Olszewski noted, “deals with both the criminals and the families of victims.”
    6th District Delegate Michael Weir Jr. was also contacted but was unable to comment before press time.
    Currently, there are five inmates on death row in Maryland. The state has not executed a prisoner since 2005.
    While a formal death penalty repeal bill has yet to reach the state House or Senate, the General Assembly is expected to take up repeal later in the session.