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January 10, 2013

Washington Post editorial urges Maryland to repeal death penalty

The Washington Post is advocating again for Maryland to repeal its death penalty. This lengthy editorial is headlined "Another chance to end the death penalty," and here are excerpts:

By the grace of state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has been handed a second chance — probably his last — to abolish the state’s death penalty.  He should seize it.

Four years ago, in deference to Mr. O’Malley, who opposes capital punishment, Mr. Miller, the powerful president of the Senate and a supporter of the death penalty, allowed the issue to reach the Senate floor.  There, despite cajoling, the governor could not corral the 24 votes needed for abolition. Instead, a bill was enacted that limited Maryland’s death penalty to cases where there is DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a video linking the suspect to a murder.

Now Mr. Miller has given Mr. O’Malley a green light to try again — if he can find the necessary 24 votes in the Senate.  The good news is that the votes may be within reach. (They’re already there in the House of Delegates, according to nose-counters in Annapolis.)  The puzzling news is that Mr. O’Malley, though he remains as opposed to capital punishment as ever, is balking.

Perhaps the governor is simply being cautious.  According to The Post’s John Wagner, 23 senators are firmly, or relatively firmly, on record as prepared to end capital punishment, and several others are on the fence. But an excess of gubernatorial caution would be a mistake.  Without a push by Mr. O’Malley himself, the status quo will remain unchanged and Maryland's death penalty will remain on the books.

In practice, it is in remission, having been suspended by a ruling from the state’s high court in 2006.  Although five prisoners remain on death row, Maryland hasn’t executed anyone since 2005.

But even if the machinery of death is frozen, there are good reasons to abolish it for good and to eliminate a costly, unjust and dysfunctional system.  In fact, the legislation four years ago codified an even more arbitrary system where the nature of the evidence, rather than the barbarity of the crime, is the crucial factor....

The arguments against capital punishment are refreshed and strengthened every time a capital conviction is overturned.  In September, Damon Thibodeaux was freed after 15 years on Louisiana’s death row — the 18th convict released from prison after analysis of DNA evidence.  As long as the death penalty exists, the nation risks committing the gravest of injustices: killing innocent people.

January 10, 2013 at 09:05 AM | Permalink


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Abraham drew near, and said, "Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?[3] ... What if ten are found there?" He [The Lord] said, "I will not destroy it for the ten's sake."


Things got more liberal by the 1700s when Ben Franklin said that "it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer."

But, a person in prison, perhaps for their whole life, surely suffers a good amount. This is not "cruel and unusual" since punishment will nearly always entail some suffering & it is a balance of realistic alternatives. Thus, in the past, the Catholic Church (to name one conservative leaning group) was more open to the death penalty given the state of criminal justice than now.

The death penalty supporter is surely not so open to accepting human perfection to think that no error occurs in the application of the criminal justice system though some seem to ("name me one!"). But, an opponent honestly should note that few innocents are likely to be executed. Often it is not a matter of the person totally being innocent. Often it is some lack of due process or something that might make the person not LEGALLY guilty. That's enough, of course, since that is what is at stake here when the state executes.

Still, like Abraham, Jesus' lost sheep and Franklin, that innocent person remains a concern for many, even some who in the end feel the death penalty should be allowed. It is but an aspect of the argument that the system is "a costly, unjust and dysfunctional system," different people having different reasons in the end why they would oppose it, some not relying on cost at all etc. Let's say Ron Paul v. Ted Kennedy (even though his two brothers were murdered).

It is not surprising that a state that started as a place in particular for Catholics will have a tough debate over the death penalty, a matter that splits many Catholics from Scalia on down. I welcome the debate and may it help in some way to improve the system of justice in some fashion.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 10, 2013 10:18:44 AM

edit: "legally guilty" here includes "guilty enough to be executed" which the law and the people as a whole treat differently & I think is too often ignored when bare "innocence" is cited.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 10, 2013 10:20:54 AM

From the editorial: "Last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 43 people were put to death, less than half the number executed in 1999 and the fewest in two decades."

The latter phrase is a point-blank lie. The idea that the DP is running out of steam is also false. The number of executions last year was the same as the number the year before, and the number of executions over the last three years is the same as the number of executions in the three years before that. In addition, the recently released Gallup poll showed a slight UPTICK in national support for the death penalty. Plus we have the Petite murders, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown...

I also note that the Post, while referring to a case in faraway Louisiana, could not find the time to describe the facts in a single death penalty case for any of the killers on death row in Maryland, allegedly the state the Post is talking about.

Now why would the Post want to take a pass on discussing the facts of any of those cases? Gosh, I just can't figure that out.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 10, 2013 1:29:39 PM

: : He [The Lord] said, "I will not destroy it for the ten's sake." [Genesis] : :

Before and long after this event in Genesis, the Lord (yet) instructed the people to execute murderers.
Shortly after this event in Genesis, "Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire."~Gen 19:24

Described again centuries later: "But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone
from heaven, and destroyed them all." ~Luk 17:29

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 10, 2013 1:50:07 PM

“Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” Genesis 4:15 KJV

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Jan 10, 2013 3:35:11 PM

The real reason the governor's reluctant to push for abolition is that capital punishment proponents have threatened to take the issue before the voters if the General Assembly abolishes the death penalty. The governor knows that if voters actually get to have a direct say in the matter, then capital punishment will survive. Therefore, it likely makes more sense from his point of view to continue Maryland's de facto abolition in which an execution hasn't been carried out for years due to the governor's, um, sluggishness in updating the state's lethal-injection protocol.

Oh, and, Claudio, I couldn't care less what a book thousands of years old full of fairy stories has to say about capital punishment. It has absolutely no bearing on my belief that the death penalty ought to be an option for premeditated murder.

Posted by: alpino | Jan 11, 2013 1:39:09 AM

alpino --

Those tempermentally inclined to oppose the DP will cite the Bible till the cows come home on that subject, arrogantly implying that They Have A Special Road To Know God's Policy Preferences. But when the Bible says something not in keeping with liberal attitudes on other issues, those who cite it are dismissed as nothing more than a bunch of ignorant, Puritanical cave men.

You gotta love it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 11, 2013 1:53:38 PM


If Joe & Claudio would merely be honest about it, I mightn't emphasise the Biblical endorsement of the DP--
especially because it is, for other reasons, self-evidently just.

However, Joe raised the issue in the 1st words of the 1st comment, misappropriating Scripture in the doing,
so he owns it.

"The fundamental basis of this Nation’s ideals was given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The fundamental basis of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution comes from the teachings
which we get from Exodus, St. Matthew, Isaiah, and St. Paul. The Sermon on the Mount
gives us a way of life, and maybe some day men will understand it as the real way of life. "—Harry S. Truman, 1952

[BTW: I was just reading Favorite Celtic Fairy Tales by J. Jacobs, and they're no 10 Commandments.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 11, 2013 2:04:57 PM

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