ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan joined Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus Wednesday to call for a two-year moratorium on state executions.
Their plea comes on the anniversary of the decision by Republican Gov. George Ryan to temporarily stop executions in Illinois, and at a time when the death penalty is under scrutiny nationwide due to wider use of DNA evidence.
The proposed moratorium would halt executions in the state while University of Maryland researchers study racial disparities among death row inmates. The moratorium would run a year longer than the study, which is to be finished in summer 2002.
Thirteen men sit on Maryland’s death row, nine of them black. That number recently dropped from 16 – 12 black – through sentence reversals or post- conviction releases, according to a spokesman for the state attorney general.
Nationwide, 43 percent of death row inmates are black, according to 1999 U.S. Department of Justice statistics.
Duncan called the moratorium “common sense,” saying, “If you have enough questions to begin a study, you should wait (for the results).”
Two other state reviews of the death penalty, in 1994 and 1996, “acknowledged that racial disparities exist in the implementation of capital punishment in Maryland . . . (and) recommended further inquiry,” according to the moratorium’s sponsor Delegate Salima Marriott, D-Baltimore.
This is a second appeal for the moratorium, which pits Duncan and the legislators squarely against Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who support the death penalty. Duncan and Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry called on Glendening last year to support the moratorium. With both Duncan and Townsend touted as potential gubernatorial candidates in 2002, the death penalty issue could become a defining one for the race. A spokesman for the lieutenant governor said Townsend supports the death penalty, but she has taken no position on the moratorium. Last year’s bill died in the House Judiciary Committee without a vote, but this year, Marriott said, she likes its chances. Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, may be one reason Marriott is feeling confident. Blount is sponsoring the Senate version of the moratorium bill. Blount is African-American, one of the Senate’s most stately and sober members, and a staunch ally of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s. Miller had no comment on the pending legislation. Another bill, sponsored by Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, and Kenneth Montague, D-Baltimore, would permanently abolish the state’s death penalty. Both bills face strong opposition. A member of the powerful Judiciary Committee, where the bill’s been assigned, said she sees no justification for either a temporary or permanent ban. “It’s justice for the victims,” said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, “forget about whether it deters crime or not.” Dembrow also has trouble supporting the moratorium. “(The moratorium) dances around the issue,” he said. “We don’t need another study . . . people already know how they feel about this issue, and another study won’t change opinions.” Maryland last executed a prisoner in November 1998, and its record of executions has been sparse. Just three men have been executed in Maryland since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the ultimate punishment in 1976. Two others have been spared from execution: Kirk Bloodworth was freed from death in 1985 and pardoned by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1993, and Glendening commuted Eugene Colvin-el’s death sentence in June 2000. Colvin-el remains in prison on a life sentence. – 30 – CNS-1-31-01