Maryland is poised to become the 18th US state to repeal the death penalty.
On Friday the Maryland House of Delegates voted upon a measure, to repeal the death penalty by a vote of 82-56, making Maryland the sixth state to abolish capital punishment in the last six years. The State Senate approved the bill 27-20 earlier this month.
“Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole… What’s more, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death”, said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in a statement, according to BBC News. This statement echoes an op-ed to the Washington Post, published by the governor a month after being sworn in.
Since assuming office in 2007, Governor O’Malley has lobbied hard for this legislation and is expected to sign it into law. However, death penalty supporters might still challenge the law by putting up for referendum in 2014. Currently, 54% of Marylanders support capital punishment for people convicted of murder, according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post.
In addition, the law is not retroactive and does not apply to 5 men currently on death row. However, Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center said that he “would be surprised if he left the five men there – to leave people on death row while no future sentences are given would be quite extreme”, according to The Guardian.
Capital punishment has been on the decline in Maryland. The last execution took place in 2005 and no new death sentences have been issued since Governor O’Malley took office.
The Governor’s efforts to get this bill passed were aided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Roman Catholic Church. In a fairly unusual turn of events, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who only last year opposed Governor O’Malley on the issue of same-sex marriage, threw the church’s support behind the bill. “I applaud the Maryland General Assembly for choosing to meet evil not with evil, but with a justice worthy of our best nature as human beings”, said Archbishop Lori following the vote, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Repeal of the death penalty in Maryland is considered to be particularly significant since it is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to do so. In the United States, most executions are carried out by southern states, over half of which have been carried out in Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma since 1976.