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Why Maryland's death penalty law should be abolished

2:15 PM EST, January 22, 2013

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Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger's commentary in favor of the death penalty demands a clarifying response ("'Time to abolish the death penalty in Md.?" Jan. 18).

Mr. Shellenberger begins by cherry-picking polling results that show Marylanders are closely divided over repealing the death penalty, with neither side achieving a clear majority.

However, poll after poll over the last several years has shown that as many as two-thirds of Marylanders are strongly supportive of the idea that a sentence of life without parole is an acceptable substitute for the death penalty.

In other words, Marylanders are ready to move on from capital punishment.

What Mr. Shellenberger does not touch on is the enormous toll that the death penalty process takes on the survivors of murder victims, who often must wait years or even decades for the appeals process to run its course.

In fact, as a member of the 2008 Commission on Capital Punishment, Mr. Shellenberger voted, along with all but one of his fellow commissioners, in support of the proposition that "the effects of capital cases are more detrimental to families than are life without the possibility of parole cases."

Why would he then advocate for a penalty that he knows is more harmful for victims' families?

Mr. Shellenberger asserts that the death penalty is "reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes." But where's the evidence for that? And how does anyone measure the heinousness of one murder versus another?

Prison safety is an issue that concerns all of us. But the argument that the death penalty protects officers and inmates has no basis in history here. Maryland has had the death penalty on the books for decades, but sadly, prison killings still occur.

Prison safety will be strengthened through better training, better facilities and better classification of prisoners, not by keeping the death penalty on the books.

Finally, Mr. Shellenberger asks how we will punish murderers in the future. The answer is simple: The same way we already do in almost all cases — life without parole.

The death penalty is expensive, does not deter crime and burdens the family members of murder victims. In Maryland, the system is also completely broken, with no regulations to implement it and no drugs to carry it out.

It's time to stop trying to fix this system and embrace criminal justice solutions that actually reduce crime and help victims and their families.

Brian Evans, Chevy Chase

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