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May 8, 2010

Notable (and justified?) attack by old Maryland governor on current governor concerning death penalty

I found very interesting this new piece discussing Maryland death penalty issues in today's Washington Post.  The piece is headlined "Ehrlich takes issue with O'Malley's delays on death penalty," and here are excerpts:

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has repeatedly fallen short in his attempts to persuade lawmakers to abolish capital punishment. But as he nears the end of his term, O'Malley is close to achieving through delay and inertia what he could not change in the law.

Three-and-a-half years after the state's highest court halted use of the death penalty on a technicality, O'Malley has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume. Although O'Malley says his administration is working diligently in that direction, advocates on both sides of the issue say they strongly doubt that any of Maryland's five condemned prisoners will be put to death before the governor stands for reelection this fall.

With jobs and the economy dominating the political debate, there is little evidence that O'Malley's posture on the death penalty has hurt him politically to this point. But his leading opponent, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), said that he plans to make it an issue, accusing O'Malley and other death penalty opponents of "shenanigans" to avoid carrying out the law.

"This is the kind of thing that makes people cynical about the criminal justice system," said Ehrlich, who presided over the state's last execution, in 2005. "Governor O'Malley took an oath to uphold the law. He's certainly violating the spirit of it."...

O'Malley bristled at Ehrlich's characterization, attributing part of the delay to a legislative review committee that six months ago raised numerous questions about regulations drafted by the administration, including its choice of a three-drug cocktail for lethal injections. Administration officials said a formal response was mailed to the committee Friday morning. "We are following the process for putting the new regulations in place," O'Malley said. "Everything about the death penalty is cumbersome and can be slow."

Ehrlich's emphasis could help shore up support among conservative Democrats, a key constituency that he courted far more successfully in his 2002 victory than his 2006 defeat. Although O'Malley's stance puts him at odds with many of those voters, his advisers say that some will appreciate the governor's conviction on the issue, even if they disagree with him.

O'Malley, who rose to political prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor of Baltimore, said he has a strong record on public safety as governor, including a sharp decrease in violent crime statewide. On Tuesday, he signed bills toughening restrictions on sex offenders and giving law enforcement new tools to monitor gangs. "He may define public safety success by how many people are executed," O'Malley said of Ehrlich. "I define it by how many lives we save."

In December 2006, during Ehrlich's last full month in office, Maryland's highest court ruled that the state's death penalty procedures had not been properly adopted, halting executions until new regulations were issued by the administration.

O'Malley focused instead on lobbying the legislature to repeal the death penalty. In high-profile testimony shortly after he took office in 2007, the governor, a Catholic, argued that capital punishment is "inherently unjust," does not serve as a deterrent to murder and consumes resources that could be better used preventing crime. It was not until July of last year, after the legislature balked at repealing the death penalty for the third year in a row, that O'Malley's administration proposed regulations that would allow executions to resume.

In September, the co-chairmen of the legislative review committee, both of whom oppose capital punishment, asked that the regulations be put on hold to allow more study. O'Malley's administration agreed. In October, the committee submitted a four-page letter, asking detailed questions about aspects of the proposal.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), a co-chairman of the legislative panel, said that neither he nor his co-chairman is trying to speed up the process and that he would not mind waiting to act until after the elections.  "On a visceral level, we haven't heard much out there," Pinsky said. "People aren't saying, 'You've got to get on this.' ... If it takes another six months, so be it.  I'm not in a hurry to allow the needle to be inserted."

I find it sad, but not very surprising, how often commitments to responsible good government will take a back-seat to strong personal (and political?) feelings in the arena of the death penalty.   Though perhaps Maryland law ensures that "[e]verything about the death penalty is cumbersome and can be slow," Ohio was able to create and deploy an improved lethal injection protocol in less than three months.  That Maryland has taken more than three years to move forward on this front certainly leads me to be cynical about certain government officials putting a commitment to responsible governing behind other interests in this setting.

May 8, 2010 at 09:42 AM | Permalink


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Thanks to StandDown Texas:
"The risk of an incorrect decision has increased," he told an audience of hundreds of lawyers and judges at a judicial conference here, responding to a question about his 2008 assertion that the death penalty should be abolished. He said that because of advances in DNA testing, which have led to the freeing of some innocent convicts, "we're more aware of the risk than we might have been before."
In a lethal-injection dispute from Kentucky two years ago, Stevens concluded for the first time that "the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions" to society."

When the law is an ass, why should anyone hurry?

Posted by: peter | May 8, 2010 10:49:41 AM

I don't know Peter, something about the rule of law. It's blindingly unfair to the victims' families, who, of course, didn't ask to be in this position.

O'Malley is scum.

Posted by: federalist | May 8, 2010 1:24:39 PM

Peter: Stop driving and walking until technology has advanced those to where they do not kill 1000 times more people than are falsely killed by the death penalty. Otherwise, you are a hypocrite and using the error rate as a pretext. This is a type of bad faith.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 8, 2010 1:39:00 PM

In Ohio, it would seem the "improved" new protocol will be so until the next botched execution takes place.

How would the new protocol have prevented any of Ohio's three (that we know of) botched executions - all of which involved difficulty in intubation?

Posted by: Dan | May 8, 2010 4:33:43 PM

When liberals want to jam down an unpersuaded public's throat an astronomically complicated expansion of the already unaffordable welfare state, i.e., Obamacare, they find a way to do it.

When they prefer NOT to go forward in carrying out a law the public supports, i.e., the death penalty (and indeed failed to repeal the DP in the Maryland legislature despite huge Democratic majorities), they say that red tape makes it impossible.

There might be someone who believes this.

The truth of it is that this is merely the latest episode in the anti-democratic abolitionist campaign to end the DP despite the failure to win either public or judicial support for doing so. If you can't end it by winning over the voters or the courts, end it by gimmick. And that's all this is.

Doug is quite right: If Ohio can do it, Maryland can do it. Since the current Governor, O'Malley, is an abolitionist, the fact that his own party rebuffed him in the legislature isn't going to matter. He'll just end it (temporarily) by dragging his feet.

If conservatives showed the disdain for the public will that liberals routinely show when it comes to the death penalty, Keith Olberman's brain, to the extent he has one, would explode.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 8, 2010 5:41:47 PM

It would be interesting to know what Judge Gallagher thinks of the death penalty after her experience of exonerating a man for wrongful prosecution and conviction last week --

"DNA test clears American musician after 28 years in jail for rape:
The moment of truth came just after 9am on Wednesday. After a brief recap of his arrest, trial and conviction for the rape of an 11-year-old girl in 1981, Judge Gallagher turned to the results of DNA analysis of skin and semen samples that she ordered two years ago from a lab in Texas. Both samples came from the victim’s underwear. They did not match the girl’s DNA, but they did match each other. “They are consistent with deriving from the same individual, the assailant of the victim,” Judge Gallagher said. “And that individual was clearly not Raymond Towler.”

Mr Towler, in a white shirt and black V-neck sweater, blinked and briefly lowered his head. “It’s been a long time coming,” Judge Gallagher noted. Her voice breaking, she then read to the court an Irish blessing more commonly heard at weddings: “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, may the rain fall softly upon your fields. May God hold you in the palm of his hand, now and forever.”

Wiping tears from her face, the judge stepped forward to shake the hand of a man known to the state of Ohio for more than quarter of a century as Inmate A16468. “Good luck to you, Mr Towler,” she said. “You’re free.”


Posted by: peter | May 8, 2010 6:33:51 PM

pitiful. what's also pitiful is this!

"DNA analysis of skin and semen samples that she ordered two years ago from a lab in Texas."

TWO YEARS? to double check the results of a test that might prove an INNOCENT person was ILLEGALLY imprisoned!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 8, 2010 6:43:35 PM

peter --

You excerpted a number of lines from the story of the "wrongful" prosecution, but somehow forgot this one: "He was later picked out by the victim from an identity parade."

The conviction was erroneous, that is true. But the prosecution was not "wrongful." A prosecutor brings a charge based on probable cause to believe the charge is correct. It is true that eyewitness identification can be mistaken, and it was here. But when the victim has a good and long-lasting look at her attacker, as most unfortunately she did here, her identification is sufficent to bring the charge. After that it's up to the jury.

What would you do? End imprisonment because there are erroneous convictions? Disallow eyewitness/victims from testifying? From going to the police? Are you interested in rectifying the injustice of erroneous acquittals as well as erroneous convictions? What is your proposal?

You cannot deliver an infallible system and neither can I. If the death penalty question is which system -- capital punishment or LWOP only -- is more likely to result in the deaths of innocent people, the answer is plainly LWOP, as the McDuff and Clarence Ray Allen cases have proved IN COURT, something the abolitionist side is unwilling (or more correctly, unable) to do.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 8, 2010 7:52:11 PM

Black folks of Maryland deserve their crime victimization if they vote for the party of the lawyer and of the criminal. Some one has to explain why Jews and blacks vote for the party of the KKK. I don't understand their self-defeating, nearly suicidal preference.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 8, 2010 9:39:46 PM

McDuff and Clarence Ray Allen are still in complete control of our criminal justice system.

Posted by: George | May 9, 2010 12:12:34 AM

George --

"McDuff and Clarence Ray Allen are still in complete control of our criminal justice system."

Actually they're not.

But there is this: You abolitionists are still in complete denial about them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2010 12:45:12 AM

Mr. Bill, Mr. Bill, Mr. Bill. Search the blog and find one post that indicates in the slightest that I think serial killers do not exist or that they should be released on parole.

Conservative propaganda is fun.

Posted by: George | May 9, 2010 2:38:20 AM

George --

Eliding the point, as ever. Just to be clear, the point is that in the McDuff and Allen cases, had the death penalty been inflicted when it legally could (and should) have been, at least a half dozen innocent people would be alive today.

McDuff avoided execution after Furman came down, went on to kill at least four more people, and was finally executed for one of these subsequent murders.

Allen could have been sentenced to death for his first murder but was not. Instead he was sentenced to life. Contrary to what you imply, HE WAS NEVER RELEASED ON PAROLE. From his prison cell, he arranged three more murders, specifically targeting (and getting) one of the initial witnesses against him. He was finally executed for one of these subsequent murders.

Do you dispute any of that?

If so, let's see the factual basis for your disagreement.

If not, it's a concession that the failure to inflict the DP in the first instance cost a minimum of seven innocent lives. This is in just two cases.

When, as in those cases, it has been established in court and beyond a reasonable doubt that previously convicted murderers went on to multiple additional murder after escaping the death penalty the first time, there is no longer any room to argue that the DP takes more innocent life than it saves. The contrary is true: It was the choice of a non-death sentence over execution that wound up costing innocent lives.

If the saving of innocent life is the touchstone, then, your abolitionist position is toast.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2010 9:52:26 AM

Mr. Bill: "If the saving of innocent life is the touchstone, then, your abolitionist position is toast."

I like toast. Best dipped in coffee.

The error of your ways in the fallacy of the part equals the whole. You conflate multiple murderers with every murderer. The vast majority do not murder a second time, let alone a third or a fourth or more, and in fact murderers have the lowest recidivism rate.

If I were inclined to support the DP it would be for those who murder twice or more, but even that is suspect because if the Innocent Project taught us there is too much of a chance one of those convictions was a false conviction.

Beyond that, the DP is wrong because of the "brutalization effect." Indeed, the brutalization effect is taking over our criminal justice system with impunity because so many have so much blind faith in our government they really don't care if an innocent was executed. He must have been guilty of SOMETHING at SOMETIME or the government wouldn't charge him.

See Cops Shoot Child’s Dog 7 Times After Finding Marijuana In Family Home for an example of the brutalization effect in operation (or execution of a search warrant).

Something is wrong when our American world view is so conducive to this sort of brutalization.

Posted by: George | May 9, 2010 10:24:09 PM

If O'Malley is against the death penalty, why doesn't he commute the sentences instead?

Ehrlich is pro-death penalty, but he took a very active stand in pardoning and commuting sentences (more in one term than in the previous two governors' 16 years), whereas O'Malley hasn't really used his clemency powers at all.

Posted by: John Thacker | Jun 25, 2010 2:01:38 AM

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