ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — It’s been eight years since Maryland executed a convicted killer, but that could be the last time if the General Assembly, as expected, gives final passage this week to a bill to abolish capital punishment.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has been pushing for the change since his first year in office. Now the Democratic-controlled legislature seems poised to make Maryland the 18th state in the nation to do away with the death penalty.
A repeal bill has already been approved by the state Senate and it was expected to win final passage from the House of Delegates on Friday.
The House advanced the legislation this week after delegates rejected nearly 20 amendments, mostly from Republicans, aimed at keeping capital punishment for the most heinous crimes.
If passed, life without the possibility of parole would be the most severe sentence in the state.
Supporters of repeal argue that the death penalty is costly, error-prone, racially biased and a poor deterrent of crime. But opponents say it is a necessary tool to punish lawbreakers who commit the most egregious crimes.
Passage would mark a major victory for O’Malley, who has long pushed for banning the death penalty.
Maryland has five men on death row. The measure would not apply to them retroactively, but the legislation makes clear that the governor can commute their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The state’s last execution took place in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. He resumed executions after a moratorium had been in place pending a 2003 University of Maryland study, which found significant racial and geographic disparity in how the death penalty was carried out.