Prison time won't stop these killers. Death will.

The Baltimore Sun

Open letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley:

Dear Governor:

I don't doubt for a second the sincerity of your motives -- and those of Sen. Lisa Gladden and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg -- in wanting to end the death penalty in this state.

I do, however, question your timing.

You, Gladden and Rosenberg might have heard the word going around that gang activity is on the increase in Maryland. Gangs are on our streets and in our prisons. What, you might ask, does that have to do with the death penalty? Read on, good governor.

Once upon a time in California -- that West Coast state that does double duty as the nation's unofficial loony bin -- there existed a prison gang called Nuestra Familia, whose members had a beef with another prison gang, the Mexican Mafia.

Beef tends to beget beef. The Mexican Mafia formed an alliance with another prison gang, the Aryan Brotherhood, against Nuestra Familia. Yet another prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family -- which has a beef with the Aryan Brotherhood almost as old as you, governor -- quickly formed an alliance with Nuestra Familia. Now, the Mexican Mafia and the Black Guerrilla Family have a beef.

When Latino inmates attacked black inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system last year, authorities believed the melees came at the direct order of the Mexican Mafia. Two Aryan Brotherhood leaders in California were found guilty last year of ordering their minions to attack black inmates in Colorado. Some of those attacks were fatal.

According to the April 1, 2006, edition of Corrections Today, "Nuestra Familia members, housed in the secure housing unit [of Pelican Bay State Prison in California], were able to order and carry out death hits and drug deals, and run extortion rackets." I have a letter from a Maryland prison inmate who swears he's on a Black Guerrilla Family hit list.

Gang members, it has been proved, don't stop their criminal activities just because they're in prison. They run criminal operations from inside prison walls. They order killings inside and outside prisons. They're a menace to corrections officers and those inmates who just want to do their time and go home.

How, exactly, will Maryland punish gang leaders who order and/or commit killings while in prison if we have no death penalty? With a term of life in prison with no parole?

Barry Mills, the Aryan Brotherhood leader who was found guilty of ordering the murders of black inmates, was already serving a life term. Prison gang leaders like Mills and those in Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia and the Black Guerrilla Family have shown that being in prison won't stop them from committing more crimes, even murder.

Prison time won't stop them. But death will.

For that reason, Maryland legislators should leave the death penalty on the table. That, and one other.

David McGuinn.

Remember him, governor? The corrections officer fatally stabbed last July at the Maryland House of Correction? I have to ask, because in all your noble words reported in newspapers about why we should end the death penalty, I don't seem to recall your mentioning the name "David McGuinn."

Gladden and Rosenberg seem to have forgotten the man as well. But I have a question for the three of you, one that I hope you all will consider answering publicly. (Not that I'm getting my hopes up.)

Two men have been charged with killing McGuinn. Both are already serving life terms. If they're found guilty, just how are they punished for McGuinn's killing if Maryland has no death penalty?

In your address to the legislative committees, governor, you posed a question yourself: Would we want to risk a member of our family being wrongly executed? Let's turn that question around and apply it to a Maryland with no death penalty.

Let's say there's an inmate serving life without parole. He has it in for a corrections officer, one like McGuinn, whose only fault was doing his job the right way. This inmate knows three things:

He's got life with no parole.

Maryland has no death penalty.

He can kill the corrections officer and not get punished for it because he knows he has already received the maximum penalty Maryland allows.

Now, governor, would you want one of your relatives working as a corrections officer under those conditions?

Would you want one of your relatives, falsely convicted of a crime but not on death row, left to the tender mercies of leaders of prison gangs like Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Black Guerrilla Family or the Aryan Brotherhood? Wouldn't you want those gang members to be given a real punishment -- and a life sentence added to a life sentence isn't real punishment -- if they killed that family member in prison?

The Black Guerrilla Family has a foothold in Maryland prisons, as do the Bloods and the Crips. We might not have the Aryan Brotherhood or the Mexican Mafia or Nuestra Familia yet.

But watch how fast they get here if Maryland repeals the death penalty.

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