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March 14, 2013

As Maryland takes another step toward capital repeal, limbo looms for five on state's death row

03_13a_DeathPenaltyFullVizAs reported in this AP article, the Maryland House "on Wednesday night advanced legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland after delegates rejected nearly 20 amendments, mostly from Republicans, aimed at keeping capital punishment for heinous crime." Here is more:

The Senate approved the measure earlier this month. A final House vote on the legislation, a top legislative priority of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, could come as soon as Friday.

Amendments defeated on the House floor would have maintained the death penalty in some cases, including acts of terrorism, for mass murderers, lawbreakers who kill police officers or firemen in the line of duty and for kidnappers who kill.   “We can’t get into the business of this crime is worse than another,” said Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, a Baltimore City Democrat who supports the measure.  “These are terrible cases, but the death penalty is not the way to go.”

With the repeal of the death penalty now nearly a done deal, the next interesting legal and policy question concerns what should become of the five murderers current on Maryland's death row.  That issue is the subject of this lengthy new Stateline article, headlined "Death Row Inmates In Limbo As Maryland Moves to Repeal Death Penalty." Here are excerpts:

After a years-long fight, Maryland is about to become the sixth state in as many years to repeal its death penalty. Gov. Martin O’Malley, who championed the repeal, says he will sign it into law. But the Democrat still faces a tough choice — what to do about the five remaining Maryland inmates on death row? The repeal bill makes no provision for the five men sentenced to death, which even after a repeal of the death penalty could legally still be executed, should they exhaust all of their appeals.

In 2011, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, commuted the sentences of all 15 death row inmates before signing a bill repealing the death penalty in his state. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, also a Democrat, did the same for eight death row inmates before signing a death penalty repeal bill in 2007. But governors in Connecticut and New Mexico left their states’ death row inmates subject to the death penalty when they signed their states’ repeal bills.

In Maryland, the governor has virtually unlimited power to pardon or commute sentences, and many death penalty opponents have encouraged O’Malley to simply clear death row if he is morally opposed to the death penalty. The Maryland Senate added an amendment to the repeal bill expressing its will that all death row inmates have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole. The executive clemency decision, however, is solely up to O’Malley.

O’Malley has three clemency options, says spokesperson Raquel Guillory: He can immediately commute all five death sentences, commute each sentence on a case by case basis, or do nothing. He is not expected to make a decision until after the legislative session ends in April.

O’Malley has been notably reluctant to commute any sentences or grant pardons during his seven-year tenure. He’s only granted 50 pardons out of 690 requests as of last December, according to The Washington Post. And he’s only commuted two sentences, one where an accomplice served three times as long as the shooter, and another where a witness recanted testimony that sent a man to prison for nearly 30 years.

O’Malley’s clemency record is in line with his overall stance of being tough on crime, stemming from his background as a Baltimore prosecutor. The majority of governors have broad, nearly unrestricted clemency power to pardon or commute sentences as they see fit. But few exercise that power regularly.

As Stateline has previously reported, governors contemplating higher office—and O’Malley is contemplating a presidential bid in 2016—have been wary of using their executive clemency powers. Well-publicized missteps by Govs. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota allowed their opponents to paint them as soft on crime.

Even though O’Malley’s clemency record is less than generous, his support for the repeal of the death penalty has brought him national attention. He’s not the only governor who’s opposed the death penalty, but he’s made it a central part of his political agenda and sold it as a public safety issue, says Shari Silberstein, executive director of Equal Justice USA, which advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.

“I think his actions are symbolic of changing national conversation surrounding the death penalty,” says Silberstein. “It’s not the third rail of politics anymore, and politicians aren’t going to have to ask themselves if they should take the risk (to oppose the death penalty) because it’s not a risk anymore. Politicians are finding that they’re not being hurt in polls.”...

Legislators in Colorado, Oregon, Kansas and Delaware are currently debating repealing the death penalty, and legislators in Montana gave a hearing to a death penalty repeal bill earlier this session. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is facing pressure to commute the sentences of two death row inmates nearing execution, and his commitment to the death penalty is wavering....

If O’Malley does not commute the sentences of Maryland’s death row inmates, he’ll be following the examples of Connecticut and New Mexico. But in those states, the remaining death row inmates have filed multiple appeals based on the legislature’s decision that death is no longer an acceptable sentence. The litigation stemming from the confusion could last years and there has been no ruling concerning all remaining death row inmates in either state.

March 14, 2013 at 08:05 AM | Permalink


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\\ the Maryland House rejected nearly 20 amendments…keeping capital punishment for heinous crime[s]...acts of terrorism,
for mass murderers…who kill police officers or firemen in the line of duty and for kidnappers who kill //

Specific cases matter not to the peculiarly tolerant…"the death penalty is not the way to go"
to Rosenberg, to "Equal Justice USA"….Maybe 5 or 6 extra mean life sentences are the way.

How about less TV privilege, a limit on the number of Cheetos per commissary order.


Are the lives of the innocent so cheap, America?

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 14, 2013 9:46:29 AM

BALTIMORE (6/19/12) AP – Alexander Kinyua, 21, of Joppatowne, was also indicted Tuesday on 1st-degree murder…
in the death of Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie.

o Kinyua…told investigators last month that he killed the 37-year-old Ghanaian man, who had been staying
with his family, and ate his heart and part of his brain, according to the sheriff's office.

o A Baltimore grand jury indicted Kinyua last week on attempted murder and other charges in a SEPARATE ATTACK
on May 19 at his apartment at Morgan State University. The slaying at Kinyua's family's home in Harford County
took place May 25. He previously faced assault charges in the dorm attack.

...... ......§ Joshua Ceasar said Kinyua hit him over the head with a BASEBALL BAT wrapped in BARBED WIRE
as he walked into the apartment, knocking him out. Friends who followed a blood trail from the door to a
back room told Ceasar they discovered Kinyua standing over him with a KNIFE and Kinyua fled, he said.
[Kinyua's father is a physics professor at the school.]

...... ......§ Ninety minutes after police were alerted…They detained Kinyua when he told them his name and said
he was carrying BRASS KNUCKLES and had stashed the bat in the woods. …[the] bat wrapped in barbed wire was
found three days later, a day before he was released on bail.

...... ......§ After he learned details of the killing of Agyei-Kodie, Ceasar said he thinks Kinyua planned to kill and
mutilate him….[A] December outburst…included him making cryptic comments about "BLOOD SACRIFICE" at a university forum. +++---+++___

No, he doesn't deserve the death penalty.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 14, 2013 10:31:59 AM

Tax cheats don't generally serve LWOP in maximum security prisons.

As for the commutation issue, first, I thought it was interesting that the article characterized granting 50 out of 690 pardon requests as stingy. I grant that in many contexts, granting a certain kind of request less than 10% of the time might be so characterized. But in the world of executive clemency, that really doesn't seem so bad!

Second, whatever the merits of repeal, I don't see much justification for enacting a prospective repeal but carrying out prior death sentences. If you've decided the punishment is not a proper one in your state, it should be applied across the board. Fear of political consequences seems to me the only reason not to simply commute the existing sentences (again, given that you've made the policy decision to repeal the dp prospectively).

Posted by: anon | Mar 14, 2013 10:42:56 AM

“'We can’t get into the business of this crime is worse than another,' said Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, a Baltimore City Democrat who supports the measure."

It's possible that I might have read something more stupid than this, but I can't recall where. The WHOLE IDEA of a legislature's setting sentencing parameters is "the business of this crime is worse than another."

What? Vandalism should get the same sentencing range as child rape?

What an idiot.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 14, 2013 10:59:49 AM

My mum's name was Rosenfeld, not Rosenberg.

"Ignorance is Strength."
see "1984": (Newspeak, the fictional language
of George Orwell's twisted utopia)--akdart.com

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 14, 2013 11:38:39 AM

“'We can’t get into the business of this crime is worse than another,' said Delegate Samuel Rosenberg

aka 'Jughead's Alternative to all Sentencing Guidelines'

BALTIMORE (3/13/13) 9:05 NNTN
Maryland Delegate Voluntarily Commits Himself to Spring Grove Mental Hospital, Diagnosed with Clinical Zoanthropy.
Dr. Relativisch Schrumpfenkopf told MSNBC that the official had previously sought to have bestiality legalized,
later attempting to equivocate sentences for all crimes to reduce the penalty. Eventually, family members
convinced the Baltimore resident that it was just as good to live in the mental hospital as at home—not
better, merely just as good.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 14, 2013 12:15:57 PM

What a stupid waste of ink and bandwidth.

Everyone knows that OMalley will commute the sentences the same day hs signs the bill, or . . . .

maybe a separate day so he can split up the splendor.

Why do Democrats do away with the death penalty

So that murderers will live . . . no matter the cost.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Mar 15, 2013 4:35:40 AM

Dudley --

"Why do Democrats do away with the death penalty?"

Part of the reason is that they just don't care. Part of the reason is that they're willing to lie -- Pat Quinn in Illinois had promised to keep the DP before he signed the bill abolishing it. Part of the reason is that the murder rate is down, so the electorate isn't as interested as in the 1970's. The biggest part of the reason, I strongly suspect, is that abolitionism raises them a lot of PAC money in Hollywood, and Soros money, and we all know what's most important to these politicians.

In fairness, it's not just the Democrats. Republican George Ryan in Illinois cleared death row (to make himself a hero to inmates before his own prison sentence for corruption). And there's the famous Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a nominal Independent, who, in addition to opposing the DP, might be the densest man alive.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 15, 2013 11:28:00 AM

B. Otis,
Don't be too hard on Jefferson Davis Chafee. His mourning has been aggravated time and again
by those narrow-minded blood-lusters who insist on celebrating the wrongful death of bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty, books glorifying Navy SEALs et al, continue to poor salt on the poor man's wounds!

"asked if he would support the death penalty for Osama bin Laden...I oppose the death penalty.”--[Providence Journal, 6/24/11]

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 15, 2013 1:11:48 PM

pour salt

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 15, 2013 1:12:31 PM

Why does Ron Paul and conservatives/libertarians wish to do away with the death penalty, either on the federal level or in general? Or, the position of the Catholic Church? At what cost, Pope Francis, at what cost!!!! Since a majority -- including the President -- does not at this time not want to do away with the d.p. across the board, including "Democrats," making it a partisan issue is somewhat tiresome.

I realize when these things are up, Democrats are more likely to support limits or bans, but they alone are not there. Finally, one reason "Democrats" oppose the death penalty would be how it is as a whole applied, especially in the past (before various court rulings of a tenor opposed by some around here, at least rulings that leave open more such rulings). Non-Democrats are quite critical about the "system" in other cases, so consistently would suggest it not crazy to be wary of the system when they execute people. The same people who rail against the President for drone attacks etc.

Finally, "at what cost." Yes, at what cost? The state has historically only executed a small subset of those statutorily open to that penalty. This includes long before those "despicable" judges of the modern era struck down sentences. Repeatedly, juries decide not to sentence heinous criminals to die.

And, when they are, states -- including Maryland -- repeatedly make actually executing them something put on the back burner. Viewing things from a state w/o a death penalty, the "cost" looks questionable, except at best when dealing with those who kill in prison [though somehow those w/o a death penalty world-wide manage] or like cases, though even there, dealing with those insane would be a problem.

I respect those with alternate views and "idiot" is tossed around by both sides. But, anyway, there is my .02.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 16, 2013 11:50:34 AM

The "at what cost" would include the morality of letting people live who deserve to die. Since I put my .02 in again, even though as I noted in the past both sides' positions are well known here, completeness warrants this addressed.

Basically, the answer would be (1) the system in place is not adequate enough to do this properly and (2) it is not moral to execute the people involved. Both involves in depth arguments (see, e.g., the opinions of Brennan/Marshall in Furman or Gregg ... Stevens in Baze ... Blackmun in Callins ... the writings of theologians and philosophers etc.) while the other side has their own (opinions of other justices etc.).

Posted by: Joe | Mar 16, 2013 11:57:17 AM

Good work, Joe. You manage to name all 4 SCOTUS Justices who categorically opposed capital punishment, and none of the 108 who didn't and don't.

Would you mind naming a single sitting Justice who opposes the death penalty? Good luck with that one.

Yes, the word "idiot" does get tossed around by both sides, but that's not really the question, is it? The question is whether -- short of being an idiot -- a state legislator can believe, like abolitionist Samuel Rosenberg, that, "We can’t get into the business of this crime is worse than another."

If you care to put on a substantive defense of that remark as anything other than idiotic, feel free. I just dread to think what your side would be saying if a retentionist legislator had said anything even close to that stupid.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 16, 2013 12:18:20 PM

I cited examples of an argument. Stevens concurred in judgment. Breyer's opinions suggests he "opposes" the death penalty, but like Stevens, he accepts there are not five votes against it. Burger noted he "opposed" the practice too but noted it was constitutional. Others probably agreed. Anyway, minority opinions at times are correct.

The context of the remark is that a certain punishment was held to be generally wrong, so trying to say this crime or that is so bad that in this case it is justified was not a business to get into. The idea is not stupid. Back in the day, drawing and quartering was used in really serious crimes, such as high treason. At some point, someone said "we can't do that, it's inhumane" etc. And, someone probably replied that there are some serious crimes out there where we need to do that sort of thing. The person replied that the punishment was always wrong, we cannot try weighing like that.

If someone supports the death penalty, the argument doesn't work for them -- there ARE crimes so serious that we need to weigh that in the balance. But, there are some punishments that just are beyond the pale, and the overall idea works.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 17, 2013 9:31:39 AM

Joe --

Then Rosenberg is idiotic for an additional reason: He simply assumes his conclusion that the DP is categorically "wrong." But if one were to argue the case rather than assume it, he would have to exhaust the category. In other words, Rosenberg would have to do what he breezily refuses to do, to wit, consider each instance in which opponents argue for preservation of the DP (child killing, cop killing, judge killing, torture killing, etc.).

Although his comment remains idiotic, his reasons for assuming rather than arguing are anything but idiotic. He knows that, as soons as we get into the specifics of some of these episodes of mind-boggling sadism and cruelty (which you also avoid like the plague), his case is significantly weakened.

What he's doing is not argument. It's the refusal to argue.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 17, 2013 11:01:30 AM

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