Religious leaders and others opposed to capital punishment made their annual
case this week that the death penalty in Maryland should be eliminated on
moral, legal and financial grounds.
“Name another issue that unites the bishops of the Catholic Church, the bishops
of the Episcopal Church, the bishops of the Methodist Church …leaders of the
Muslim and Jewish communities,” Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese
of Maryland told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on
Moral considerations link the religious leaders in their opposition to capital
punishment, Sutton said, before a number of other religious leaders testified
in support of a bill to repeal the death penalty and to use the cost savings to
fund programs to benefit victims.
How does the killing of citizens lead to a “civil, just” society? Sutton asked.
“How do we stop the violence? I am here to tell you we cannot kill our way out
of this situation.”
Death penalty opponent David Smith of Hagerstown compared applying capital
punishment to the actions of North Korea and “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” adding,
“I think we can do better.”
But Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, the lone opponent
to testify against the bill, said prosecutors want to keep the death penalty as
Some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the death penalty, he said. 5
people have been executed in the state since 1994.
The state passed a measure in 2009 that severely limited which cases were
eligible for the death penalty — those where DNA evidence tied the perpetrator
to the crime, or where the killer had given a videotaped confession or where
the crime was captured on camera and the suspect was clearly visible,
Del. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills said the fact that a
supporter as well as several opponents criticized the recent restrictions shows
that legislators got the revisions right.
“That suggests to me that we have a pretty good compromise,” Zirkin said.
The bill would eliminate the death penalty, making the most heinous crimes
punishable by life in prison. The money saved from repealing the death penalty
would go to aid survivors of homicide victims.
By not having to litigate capital cases, the state would save $1.3 million in
fiscal 2013, according to an estimate from the Department of Legislative
The public defender’s office, which handles death penalty cases, would be
assigned to other work, while the savings to the Division of Correction were
considered negligible because 3 of the 5 inmates currently on death row in the
state have been incarcerated for more than 26 years, according to the
That led to a question from Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2) of Hagerstown
as to how the state would save money to increase funding for victims.
Katy O’Donnell, the chief attorney for the Maryland Office of the Public
Defender’s death penalty case unit, said she did not know the answer, but would
have to report back to him.
Similar bills to repeal the death penalty were filed in 2001 and from 2003 to
2006 without success.
The state’s last execution occurred Dec. 5, 2005, when Wesley Eugene Baker was
executed for the murder of Jane Tyson in Catonsville.