Bills urge use of death penalty Chief judge defends the appeals process


ANNAPOLIS -- The chief judge of Maryland's highest court told a Senate committee yesterday that it was unlikely anyone on Maryland's death row would be executed soon.

The state's law went into effect 14 years ago and 10 men are sentenced to death. But the state's laws, dogged public defenders and "technicalities" have kept those cases in the appeals process, Judge Robert C. Murphy told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, the committee chairman, introduced a package of eight procedural bills to speed up the process. Some impose strict time schedules on court reporters and judges. Others involve the post-conviction process, in which prisoners may appeal their convictions several times.

"The problem with the process today is we should be using the gas chamber, but what we're doing is worrying those poor people to death," Mr. Baker said.

While Judge Murphy opposed the bills that would impose time schedules on judges, he also cautioned the committee that death penalty cases are only a small part of an overwhelming workload.

And he said the so-called "technicalities" that raise citizens' ire 00 usually are based on such basic rights as the Fifth Amendment.

"I know it's frustrating for citizens to see these cases reversed," Judge Murphy said. "But I think citizens would be more frustrated if the court bowed to public will."

Mr. Baker maintains that if the law is on the books, it should be used. He also has said that the success of the package may influence how he treats legislation from Gov. William Donald Schaefer that would ban many assault weapons, although he denied that linkage yesterday.

"I put these bills in so we could have vehicles to address these issues," the senator said. "I frankly don't know what I'm going to do."

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