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Shaking Off the Shackles of State-Sponsored Killing

Tanya Greene,
Advocacy and Policy Counsel,
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May 2, 2013

Hooray for Maryland! Expressing concerns about the risk of deadly error, the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost, racial bias and the unending torment of murder victims’ family members, today Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley, signed into law repeal of that state’s death penalty. We applaud the legislature and the Governor on their decision to end state-sponsored homicide in Maryland. We are a better nation for it.

Part of a noticeable trend – as Dr. King might say, the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice — Maryland is the sixth state in six years to repeal the death penalty, joining New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut.

It is important to note that Maryland, is the first state below the Mason-Dixon line, which divided slave states from non-slave states during the early history of the country, to repeal the death penalty. Justice-loving peoples everywhere applaud the significance of this step, given the racial bias endemic in use of the death penalty nationwide.

Maryland has finally acted on the recommendation of the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to end the death penalty. After intensive review of all facets of the state’s death penalty system, the Commission found that just one case that results in the death penalty costs the state about $3 million, almost $2 million more per case than the life without parole alternative, including prison time. The Commission also found that there is no persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, numerous law enforcement agencies around the country have agree that the death penalty does not deter murders and statistics show that states with the death penalty continue to have the highest murder rates.

It is important to note that the Commission condemned Maryland’s death penalty system as race-biased. Race bias in death penalty cases is complicated, often having much to do with the race of the victim as well as the race of the accused. Even now, five years after the Commission released its findings, all five of Maryland’s current death row inmates were convicted of murders of white victims. The victims of all five men who have been executed since 1976 were also white. Yet 80% of Maryland murder victims are Black. Such a system, steeped in racial bias, simply cannot be trusted to produce fair and accurate results.

Many families of murder victims in Maryland have consistently supported repeal of the death penalty as a violent, inappropriate response to their loss and pain that does not heal them or make the world a better place. Advocacy groups across the spectrum, including the NAACP, Maryland Catholic Conference, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, National Black Police Association, and the ACLU of Maryland, played a critical role in the repeal effort. All these groups deserve thanks for today’s victory.

Maryland has the dubious honor of having the first DNA exoneree freed from MD death row in 1993. Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted of a dreadful rape and murder he did not commit. Kirk has dedicated his re-found life after exoneration to eradicating the death penalty, so that no other innocent person will suffer as he did. For him, and for all Marylanders , this is a good day for justice. Passage of this bill finally guarantees, at least in Maryland, that we will no longer run the risk of executing an innocent person.

To take action on this issue in your state, check out this map.

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