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Death penalty repeal effort survives in Senate

Efforts to end Maryland's death penalty moved forward late Monday as the Senate squashed attempts to retain the death penalty for what one senator called "the worst of the worst."

Senators resumed an emotional debate they left off Friday evening, considering Monday whether to keep capital punishment for people convicted of murdering police officers or inmates who kill correctional officers. Both amendments, offered by Republicans in the Democrat-controlled chamber, failed by wide margins.

"Our blood boils at the thought" of those crimes, said Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat leading the pro-repeal coalition on the floor. Republicans and Democrats offered heart-wrenching examples of murderers without remorse and officers who left behind widows and children. "But I've got to say, the death penalty was in place when those murders took place," Raskin said. "It did not stop those murders."

Other efforts to preserve Maryland's already narrowly written death penalty law also failed as the discussion stretched late into the night. Senators unsuccessfully tried to carve out exemptions for contract killers, people who commit multiple murders, murders of children or murders committed during a kidnapping.

The Senate is set to resume debate Tuesday. The House of Delegates is expected to take up the measure next week.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has pushed to make Maryland the 18th state to repeal the death penalty, this year building a coalition that included the national NAACP, victims' rights advocates, religious groups and others who have long pushed for repeal.

But perhaps the greatest political hurdle was cleared before the session began when Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a supporter of the death penalty, said he would ensure the repeal would get a vote on the Senate floor.

O'Malley's attempt at a repeal in 2007 failed. In 2009, a key Senate committee voted instead to recast the state's death penalty law to require a high standard of proof. Prosecutors can now only seek the death penalty when they have DNA evidence, a video recording of the crime or a video-recorded confession by the killer.

While five inmates are on death row — three for crimes committed in 1983 — Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since a judge in 2006 overturned the rules for carrying out executions. The rules have not been rewritten.

O'Malley and others have argued Maryland's capital punishment law is costly, ineffective and impossible to apply fairly.

Monday night, Baltimore County Sen. Delores G. Kelley echoed that argument as she urged her colleagues to keep the repeal legislation intact.

"There isn't anyone in this room that can say the death penalty is being evenly applied," said Kelley, a Democrat. "We can't bring anybody back, but we ought not be a part of a system that makes a bad situation worse."

Minority Leader Sen. E.J. Pipkin had proposed a partial repeal of the death penalty, leaving it in place for people convicted of murdering police officers in the line of duty.

"The safety and protection of our law enforcement officers are absolutely critical in how our society works," said Pipkin, a Republican from the Eastern Shore.

Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat from Howard County who was a police officer from 1966 to 1991, gave an impassioned plea to protect the officers, pointing out that life sentences do not mean murderers are "rotting in prison.

"They are watching TV, they are eating three square meals a day, they are getting visits from family," Robey said. "The people who are rotting are the corpses in the ground."

The amendment failed in a 19-27 vote.

Another amendment by Sen. Christopher Shank, a Republican whose Washington County district includes the Roxbury Correctional Institute, suggested keeping the death penalty for inmates who kill correctional officers.

"They have nothing to lose," Shank said.

That amendment failed in a 19-27 vote.



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