ANNAPOLIS – An effort to reinstate a death penalty moratorium was halted in the Maryland Senate by a single vote Tuesday.
The Senate defeated the measure 24-23, with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, casting the deciding vote.
The bill would have given new life to a moratorium imposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to allow University of Maryland researchers time to study any possible bias in the state’s ultimate penalty.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich dumped his predecessor’s moratorium upon taking office in January, even though the study results released that same month revealed racial and geographical bias in the state’s application of the penalty.
If it passed, the bill would have imposed a new three-year moratorium and established the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to be headed by Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to ensure the state’s death penalty was free from bias.
The vote, originally scheduled for last week, was a disappointment for Sen. Ralph Hughes, D-Baltimore.
“I was hoping to get that one vote,” said Hughes, the bill’s primary sponsor. “We’ll just have to regroup and see what our next move can be. Hopefully some of the things learned here could be used at future appeals hearings.”
Miller’s deciding vote was no surprise. He’d said earlier this month he would not vote in favor of a moratorium, even though he voted to allow it to proceed to a full and final Senate vote.
“I wrestle with this issue every year, but I’m not ready to change my mind,” Miller said. “The death penalty is not working in Maryland . . . the decision has to be up or down, not for a moratorium.”
Hughes had postponed the vote until Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, an avid proponent, returned from emergency surgery.
But pleas from Grosfeld didn’t change any minds.
“I am disappointed that (senators) could not distinguish between this and a repeal,” Grosfeld said. “They voted against this because they saw this as boosting a death penalty repeal, which is a misunderstanding.”
Grosfeld’s legislation to repeal the death penalty never made it out of committee. She said she hoped to have had the chance to talk to more of her colleagues.
“I don’t know how (there can be) that degree of acceptance of an inherently unjust problem when we’re talking about putting someone to death,” she said.
Disappointed, but not surprised by the vote, was Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery.
“The study showed there needs to be adjustments and it needs to be fixed . . . our system is insufficient,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve executed anyone who’s innocent . . . but if we keep it up we will.”
But death penalty supporters said the vote was proper.
“I was pleased and I think justice will be served,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, who exhorted her colleagues to vote down the measure. “This is about justice. This is about justice for Dawn Marie Garvin. This is about justice for the victim’s families.”
Garvin was slain in 1987 by Steven Oken, next in line on death row. Oken was to be executed this week before a stay was issued. Without the stay, Oken would have been the first Maryland inmate to put to death since 1998.
Garvin’s brother, Fred Romano, watched the vote from the gallery.
“I’m ecstatic. It’s all about justice,” Romano said. “The clock is ticking . . . and it’s about time the spotlight gets off the criminal and put on the victim.”
Also in the gallery was Don “J.C.” Moats, the father of Joseph Tutz, 21, who was fatally shot in Forestville in December 2001.
“I’m glad they did what they did,” said Thomas Glisson, a Moats family friend. “It’s going to help a lot of victims.”