Maryland should reinstate the death penalty

Larry Hogan won the Maryland governorship by conceding that some social issues were settled — such as gay marriage, gun control and abortion — but saying that the state had gone too far on other matters such as taxation and spending.

No controversy better exemplifies this overcorrection than the elimination of capital punishment from Maryland's criminal justice system.


The death penalty should be reinstated in Maryland. Here's why:

1. If, God forbid, an egregious murderer were to target children, such as was done in the Pakistani city of Peshawar in mid-December, wherein over 100 children were murdered by a half dozen Taliban, Maryland must not have only life imprisonment at its disposal. The death penalty must be available for the most unspeakable crimes wherein children or other innocents are targeted.


2. Public opinion is somewhat unstable, but mostly in support of judicious use of execution for monstrous crimes or, as we like to call them, the worst of the worst.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds more, polling support for state-imposed executions reached over 80 percent, for example.

3. The number of law enforcement officers shot in the line of duty increased by 50 percent in 2014. The leading method of those shootings was ambush-style attacks. The death penalty should be an option for those prosecutors who wish to seek it when an officer is killed.

4. A state's availability of capital punishment, despite arguments to the contrary, provides a deterrent against capital crime. Singapore uses it consistently, and Britain has abolished it, which has led to decreases and increases in capital crime respectively. Accused murderers rarely want the death penalty if convicted.

5. Lifers without parole are free to murder with virtual impunity. This puts our correctional officers at risk and all others who work and live in our prisons. They kill people in prison and have the ability to order assaults and murders as well. The late Baltimore Sun columnist Gregory Kane used to write about correctional officers who were on "inmate hit lists." Do we wish to give the "go-head" to such felons to assassinate and terrorize witnesses and others at will?

6. The most irrelevant issue opposing the death penalty is the cost. First, it is impossible to assess the costs over time of keeping capital criminals alive and contrasting it to maintaining the possibility of execution, and second, it is as relatively unimportant as assessing the cost of drone strikes, a military strategy critical to stopping or slowing down terrorist groups bent on destroying the United States.

7. The argument that no anti-crime strategy is worth the risk of the state's killing an innocent man is bogus. Moses Maimonides' dictum that "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death" ignores the fact that the freed guilty person may kill thousands more. Moreover, raising the standard of proof for conviction in capital cases eliminates even this invalid argument. With the advent of DNA analysis and other technological advances in crime fighting, the chances of executing an innocent person are near zero.

There is no major ideological divide in Maryland concerning whether the death penalty ought to at least be available for use against mass murderers, murderers of children or murderers of law enforcement.


Unfortunately, in Maryland, one day we will wake up to the news that a person has committed another unspeakable crime against his fellow man — maybe one similar to Newtown. What do we tell our fellow citizens when the death penalty is not even available as an option for the killing of 20 school children? What do we tell the rest of the country?

The death penalty within a fair court system is not a matter of vengeance; it is a matter of justice. Justice must exist for the killer, his victim and our community. When there is justice, much is achieved.

Don't take the threat of capital punishment out of the hands of prosecutors who wish to protect the citizens of Maryland.

Restore the possibility of capital punishment in Maryland.

Scott Shellenberger is Baltimore County state's attorney and author of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment Minority Report; his email is Richard E. Vatz is professor at Towson University and author of "The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion" (Kendall Hunt, 2013); his email is