Wesley E. Baker. Tyrone Delano Gilliam. Flint Gregory Hunt. Steven Howard Oken. John Frederick Thanos.
These five people were violent killers who had something else in common: All were put to death by Maryland after the state resumed capital punishment in 1978.
Today five people wait on Death Row and the clock could soon be reset — or stopped for good.
An appeals court ordered a moratorium on executions almost two years ago for a review of the lethal injection method, which some argue is unconstitutional. In the interim, the Maryland legislature was unsuccessful in two tries to repeal the death penalty.
Next month, a state commission that has been studying the gut-wrenching issue is scheduled to release new death-penalty recommendations.
Based on a preliminary vote taken earlier this month, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment is likely to ask the state legislature to abolish the death penalty in favor of a life sentence, without the possibility of release, for the worst criminals.
The commission said it found disparities in the way death-penalty cases are handled in judicial systems, and along racial lines. The advisory group also said the threat of a death sentence did not deter criminals from killing someone.
The questions of race, fairness, innocence, deterrence, the impact on the families of victims, cost and morality have long enveloped the debate over the death penalty, which can be imposed in 38 states and is available to federal prosecutors for certain crimes.
On the issue of race, here are the current basic facts: Four of the five people awaiting execution are black, one is white. Of the 42 convicts executed by 10 states in 2007, federal reports reveal 28 were white and 14 were black.
Statistics have long confirmed that a death sentence is more expensive. In a Maryland case where prosecutors could have sought death, but did not, costs for prosecution, defense and incarceration were estimated at $1.1 million, according to a study by the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. The price for a capital case in which the death penalty was sought rises to at least $1.8 million — and as much as $3 million, if an execution occurs, the study estimated.
Will the possibility of death cause a potential killer to pause? One recent University of Pennsylvania study found it is impossible to answer that question.
Families of victims have testified that killing the killer often doesn't bring closure.
Perhaps the deepest concern is that the justice system is not infallible, that innocent people will be put to death, even with improvements in technology and more reliable test results.
One of the 23 members of Maryland commission is Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, a former Marine who was convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old and sentenced to death in 1984. After spending nine years in prison, including two on Death Row, he was exonerated after it was revealed genetic evidence found at the crime scene didn't match his DNA.
Bloodsworth is living proof that mistakes happen and there can be significant ambiguity in evidence at trial.
Unlike a life sentence without possibility of parole, a death sentence can't be reversed if new evidence becomes available after the sentence is carried out.
Prison is seldom a pleasant place. For "the worst of the worst" criminals, such as child and police killers, some argue that the fact they will die in their isolation cells is a harsher punishment than death by needle.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is correct in his assertion that the ultimate penalty is "inherently unjust." In a civil society, one death of an innocent person is one too many. It's time to remove the death penalty from Maryland's books.http://www.gazette.net/stories/11272008/prinedi154037_32470.shtml