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Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Posted March 2, 2009 | 06:31 PM (EST)

Maryland Needs to Repeal the Death Penalty -- Now


There are few events that can be considered true turning points in the moral life of a people. But Maryland will face one this week, as the State Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to repeal the death penalty and replace it with the punishment of life imprisonment without parole.

Over the last few weeks, I've asked Marylanders to urge their state senators to end capital punishment in our state. It's an issue on which good people disagree, but I believe we will fail our children and ourselves if we allow state executions to continue.

The reasons for my conviction are based in pragmatics and in principle.

First, the death penalty is not only a completely ineffective tool in deterring violent crime, it's an expensive one. Earlier this year - after months of expert testimony - the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment found that pursuing a capital case is three times more expensive to taxpayers than pursuing a non-death-penalty homicide conviction. It's a price of $3 million versus $1.1 million - funds we could be using to help victims' families, or to prevent more crimes from happening - and more families from suffering the same pain.

Second, repealing the death penalty will help us continue to make Maryland a safer state by allowing us to focus scarce resources on crime-fighting tactics and strategies that work. I've spent my whole career -- as mayor of Baltimore, and now as governor -- working with Maryland communities to make our streets safer. In Baltimore, we reduced violent crime in Baltimore by 40 percent by restoring our community's confidence in our system of justice and innovative policing.

Last year in Maryland, we achieved the second-largest drop in homicides in nearly 25 years. But it wasn't the death penalty that allowed us to do this. It was a renewed emphasis on state and local partnerships to protect our communities; our police departments' ingenuity and innovation; and our expansion of DNA fingerprinting. It was, in short, our resolve to work together to fight violence and fear with collective strength and smart crime prevention policies.

All these advances in public safety enabled us to save 66 lives last year, according to the most reliable estimates. But the death penalty didn't save those lives -- we did.

I can assure you that we will continue to build on these public-safety victories and that repealing the death penalty will not undo these successes.


Finally - there's the moral cost of capital punishment. The Commission's most chilling finding was that, for every 8.7 Americans sent to death row one innocent person has been exonerated. Members of the Commission nearly unanimously agreed that "the administration of the death penalty clearly shows racial bias."


It's worth repeating: One in 8.7. Clear racial bias.


These are the pragmatic considerations I hope Marylanders and the State Senate consider when votes are cast on Tuesday.


But there's the deeper consideration, the one that makes Tuesday a turning point in our shared moral life. It's our chance to answer important questions about who we are as citizens and as stewards of the society we'll leave our children.


Our free and diverse republic wasn't founded on fear and retribution, but on justice, the dignity of the individual, and equal rights before the law.


We've got to ask ourselves: are those principles compatible with the "civil" taking of human life? Are they compatible with not just an abstract possibility, but a real risk that we could erroneously take the life of an innocent fellow citizen?


My answer to both of those questions is no.


The citizens of 14 other states in the country have answered them the same way, using turning points like the one Maryland faces this week to decide that capital punishment is beneath who we are as a people.


I hope Maryland will soon join them.