Maryland is about to abolish the death penalty

Maryland lawmakers today approved what California voters narrowly rejected a few months ago: abolition of the death penalty.

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 82-56 to replace that state’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole; the state Senate had approved the bill 27-20 last week. Gov. Martin O’Malley had introduced the repeal legislation and so there’s no question that he’ll sign it into law now; in doing so, he’ll make Maryland the sixth state in as many years to do away with capital punishment.

“State after state is deciding that the death penalty is simply not worth the risks and costs to retain,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in a news release. “Maryland is the sixth state in recent years to choose this course, but it won’t be the last.”

California voters in November rejected Proposition 34, which like Maryland’s law would’ve replaced the death penalty with life without parole; 48 percent voted for it, 52 percent against.

The defeat came despite the elevated turnout brought by a presidential election and after supporters had reframed the issue in part as one of fiscal wisdom, arguing the tight-budgeted state can’t afford the tremendous cost of putting and keeping so many people on death row.

California now has 732 condemned inmates, but has executed only 13 since reinstating its death penalty in 1978; the last execution was in 2006. Prop. 34 would’ve commuted all currently condemned inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Maryland has carried out five executions since 1976, but has only five inmates now on its death row. The new law won’t directly affect those five, leaving it up to O’Malley to decide whether their sentences should be commuted separately.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Marga

    It’s worth mentioning that Prop 34 was opposed by California death row inmates (94% were against it, in one survey). That’s because by changing their sentences to life without the possibility of parole, they lose their government-appointed lawyers (that’s where the savings are), and therefore practically any possibility of ever getting out.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    California’s Proposition 34, came with a huge upfront price tag attached to it.
    Something I heard, was that more California death row inmates commit suicide, than are executed. Another story I heard, was that few people want to personally execute another human. Do I need to state the obvious solution?

  • Elwood

    For scum like Richard Allen Davis, I would gladly push the plunger.

  • JohnW

    As practiced (or not practiced), the death penalty in California is worse than useless. The only people who benefit from it are the corrections employees attached to the death row facility and the death row inmates who would otherwise be in general population and sharing a cell. About the only states left where the death penalty is imposed and carried out with regularity are Texas and Florida.