Md. governor names panel to study death penalty

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Md. governor names panel to study death penalty

Post  Jennie on Fri Jul 11, 2008 4:23 pm

Md. governor names panel to study death penalty

Former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti will head the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, along with 22 other people chosen to study the death penalty in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced today.

Civiletti, attorney general from 1979 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter, said he intends to listen to both sides of the debate and reserve judgment in the 5 months the commission has to study the issue.

"I come in with views but they are not fixed views, and so I am anxious to learn as much as I can in the short period of time that we have to do this important work," said Civiletti, a former attorney in the law firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard in Baltimore.

The commission was established in the last legislative session to address several specific concerns, including racial, jurisdictional and socio-economic issues in the use of capital punishment in Maryland.

The commission also will study the risk of an innocent person being executed. It addition, it will compare costs of "prolonged court cases involving capital punishment" with costs for life imprisonment without parole.

The commission will issue a final report on its findings to the Maryland General Assembly by Dec. 15.

O'Malley, a Democrat and death penalty opponent, has supported repealing capital punishment in Maryland. However, repeal attempts have failed in the last 2 years.

The commission includes a variety of people, among them 3 relatives of murder victims and Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Maryland death row inmate whose case was the 1st capital conviction overturned as a result of DNA testing in the United States.

"We all are in this to do the right thing, and to make sure that our study is open, honest and thorough," Bloodsworth said.

The commission also includes Scott Shellenberger, a Baltimore County state's attorney who has prosecuted a death penalty case.

Critics have said Maryland already has studied the issue enough. Republicans also have questioned whether O'Malley and the state's Democratic leadership have leaned the commission toward an anti-death penalty stance.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, questioned why the commission includes 2 Democratic senators, but not a single Republican senator.

"It seems to me that there should have been a Republican member of the Senate," Kittleman said.

Maryland currently has a de facto moratorium in place against capital punishment, because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state's highest court. The court ruled the state's protocol for the lethal injection procedure was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can't resume until the O'Malley administration submits new rules for the committee to approve.

O'Malley has directed the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections to begin working on the protocol, a process that could be finished by the end of the year.

O'Malley chose 13 of the 23 commission members. Four were chosen by House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Five were selected by various legal and public safety agencies. Civiletti was chosen in a joint decision by O'Malley, Busch and Miller.

In 2003, University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster released a study that found black defendants who killed whites were statistically most likely to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death in Maryland.

Maryland currently has 5 men on death row. Only 5 inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland.

(source: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)

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