Death-penalty halt appears headed for vote tomorrow
By By Stephanie Desmon
Mar 11, 2003 at 3:00 AM
A measure that would halt executions in Maryland appeared headed for a final vote in the Senate tomorrow, after one senator abandoned a last-minute attempt to weaken the bill last night.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who represents parts of the Eastern Shore, had hoped to amend the moratorium bill to exempt the counties in his district -- Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico. But he withdrew his changes after he said Attorney General Joseph J. Curran Jr. told him they would be "unconstitutional" and violate the "equal protection" provision.
The moratorium -- which would provide time to do a further study on how the death penalty is meted out in Maryland -- still faces shaky prospects. Last week, the measure narrowly passed on a procedural vote, 24 to 23. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- one of those who voted for the bill last week -- said again yesterday that he plans to oppose it on the final vote tomorrow, in part because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has threatened to veto the bill.
A recent University of Maryland study, funded by the state, found racial and geographic disparity in the state's capital punishment system. Twelve men are on Maryland's death row. The state has executed three people since 1976, but seven death warrants could be sought in coming months.
Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, the bill's sponsor, said he doesn't know whether he has the votes to put the moratorium in place. "I'm still working on them," the Baltimore Democrat said of his colleagues. "Maybe we can wear them down."
Death-penalty opponents held a rally last night outside the State House, where they heard from Kirk Bloodsworth, the Eastern Shore fisherman who spent nine years on death row before being exonerated in 1994 through DNA testing.
"I am the poster child for the reason why we should ... have a moratorium," he said. "The next Kirk Bloodsworth might not be standing here talking to you. We'd be talking about him in the past tense."