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Legislature misses chance to end death penalty

I have spent a lot of my life waiting.

I waited for two years to be executed, and I waited in prison for more than eight years — all for a murder I had nothing to do with.

After finally being exonerated in 1993, I had to wait 10 years for the DNA that cleared me to be used to bring the real killer to justice. But the longest wait of all has been my two decades since I left prison, prodding and pushing the Maryland General Assembly to end capital punishment in our state once and for all.

I am disappointed for yet another year as the legislature will soon adjourn for 2012 without a floor vote in either the House of Delegates or Senate on repealing the death penalty.

The lack of action this year is especially frustrating because we are confident that there is majority support for repealing capital punishment in both houses of the legislature. All it would take is a full and fair vote and I believe Maryland's death penalty will end.

This year, the repeal bill had record numbers of co-sponsors: 66 in the House and 19 in the Senate. Although most senators support repealing the death penalty, there are only five votes and not the six-vote majority needed in the Senate committee that considers the legislation. The Senate leadership controls the committee system, which at present thwarts the will of the majority.

The 2009 legislature tightened up the evidence required for capital cases, a good step forward but one that does not make the system fool-proof. We still risk executing an innocent person. Human error happens, and nothing can eliminate the possibility of the ultimate mistake — that we will execute the next Kirk Bloodsworth. A 2005 study published by Northwestern University School of Law found that the most common factor contributing to wrongful murder convictions was perjury. No reform can eliminate such human failings.

The public also understands that the death penalty requires far more resources than a case in which a penalty of life in prison without parole is sought. Those resources could be used to fight crime or make prisons safer for officers and inmates. I am proud that our legislation this year would have used some of the savings from eliminating the death penalty to improve and increase services for the families of murder victims.

As I learned serving on the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, the death penalty causes enormous hardship on the families of victims, who must wait years, even decades, for cases to conclude. Those are years of uncertainty and anguish as the crime is rehashed over and over again. I have deep sympathy for these families and believe they would be best served if judges imposed a maximum sentence of life without parole. I can tell you it is a severe punishment and one that does not drag on in court for decades.

Yet the Maryland legislature still fails to act. Other states aren't waiting. In recent years, New Jersey, New York and Illinois have abolished the death penalty. And the public in each of these states has accepted the change with little to no outcry. Connecticut is poised to be next.

I am disappointed this year, but be assured I am not waiting. I am starting today to push the legislature to vote on repeal next year. I especially call on Gov. Martin O'Malley to resume his fight to end capital punishment.

If Maryland keeps its the death penalty, we will execute an innocent person someday. It nearly happened to me. It can happen to anyone.

Kirk Bloodsworth was born and raised in Cambridge and resides in Prince George's County. He was convicted of murder in Baltimore County in 1985, spent nearly nine years in prison and was exonerated and pardoned in 1993. His email is kirkbloodsworth@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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