Maryland has penalties harsh enough for the Edgewood murders

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much whether Radee Prince is tried first in Delaware on attempted first-degree murder and other charges or in Maryland on three counts of first-degree murder and two of attempted first-degree murder. The man accused of opening fire on his colleagues at an Edgewood granite counter company will be tried in both places, and, if found guilty, we doubt he will ever be free again.

In a statement Monday, Delaware and Maryland officials say they have decided to try him first in Delaware because the criminal code there does not allow for the possibility of parole in attempted first-degree murder. True enough. (Delaware also has the death penalty, but it does not apply in this case.) But the notion advanced by Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly that Maryland lacks a “proportional penalty” for crimes like the ones Mr. Prince is accused of is simply false. Maryland law does in fact reserve severe penalties for heinous acts like those Mr. Prince is charged with, and it allows for the imposition of life without the possibility of parole if the state provides notice of its intent to seek such a penalty and a judge imposes it after a separate hearing. While the death penalty was rarely imposed in Maryland, judges have shown a willingness to sentence people guilty of less heinous murders than Mr. Prince is accused of to life without parole. At least a half-dozen such sentences have been handed down in the last six months.

And life sentences with parole in Maryland are, for all practical purposes, the same as life without parole. The final decision on whether to grant parole for anyone serving a life sentence must be approved by the governor — which has meant virtually no such paroles in the last two decades. About 2,500 inmates serving life sentences in Maryland are eligible for parole, and the parole board has recommended scores of them be released. Since then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared that “life means life” in 1993, only two lifers have been granted non-medical parole, both by Gov. Larry Hogan within the last year.

What we certainly don’t need is a push to reinstate capital punishment, which Maryland outlawed in 2013. Nothing has changed since then that would make it less arbitrary, less prone to error, less racially discriminatory in application or less irrelevant to the fight against violent crime. We have full confidence that neither the General Assembly nor Governor Hogan will take seriously Sen. Robert Cassilly’s proposal to allow the death penalty with the method of execution a lethal injection of heroin and fentanyl. That’s juvenile to the point of silliness.

The appropriate questions here aren’t whether one state or another has tough enough penalties for these heinous murders. They both do. The question is whether authorities had any chance to prevent last week’s killings when Mr. Price was pulled over in Cecil County in 2015 and found with a gun in his car — a gun he was ineligible to possess because of previous convictions in Delaware. The Cecil County State’s Attorney’s office has offered no substantive explanation for not pursuing charges that could have sent Mr. Price back to prison other than to issue a statement saying they believed they lacked the evidence for a conviction. Given what happened two years later, the public deserves a more detailed answer than that.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated Maryland’s procedure for imposing sentences of life without the possibility of parole. A 2016 Court of Appeals decision resolved ambiguity in Maryland law created by the 2013 repeal of the death penalty to specify that a judge, not a jury, would determine whether to impose life without the possibility of parole. The Court of Appeals’ Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure updated Maryland’s court rules to reflect the decision this month. The Sun regrets the error.

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