ANNAPOLIS – Maryland should abolish the death penalty because it is too expensive and there is always the possibility of executing an innocent person, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment said in its final report released Friday.
The 23-member commission, which was created by the Maryland General Assembly in the 2008 legislative session, recommended ending the death penalty by a vote of 13 to 9, with one abstention.
“Death is different … because it’s irreversible,” said Commission Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti, who served as U.S. Attorney General in the Carter administration from 1979 to 1981. “It is neither swift, nor fair, nor sure.”
Among its findings, the commission said that the costs associated with the death penalty are higher than the costs associated with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, and that DNA evidence does not necessarily stop an innocent person from being executed.
“The cost of the death penalty … is estimated to be $2.9 million,” said Civiletti, who compared it to the estimated $1.1 million it would cost to prosecute a case and keep a prisoner incarcerated for life.
The commission also released a minority report, which presented an argument for keeping the death penalty and was signed by eight of the commissioners.
“This is an issue upon which reasonable minds can differ,” said State’s Attorney for Baltimore County Scott Shellenberger, one of the commissioners who signed the minority report. “We must retain the death penalty as an available tool for prosecutors to use when faced with the worst of the worst.”
Shellenberger said the close vote to abolish the death penalty represented a difference of philosophy.
“While the death penalty may cost more, it’s not so exorbitantly more that that’s our reason to abandon justice,” said Shellenberger. “You have to ask yourself, do we really put a price on justice?”
The commission also included legislative members, religious leaders, family members of murder victims and a police chief.
“My vote to repeal the death penalty comes from the truth that I know so well, as we found … that there is a real possibility to execute an innocent person,” said Kirk Bloodsworth, a former death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence. “And I learned this from my own experience.”
Thirteen of the commission members were appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, an outspoken critic of the death penalty.
“It is my hope that we can all take the time to review the facts presented in this report thoroughly and with an open mind,” O’Malley said, in a statement following the commission’s report.
The commission dismissed the idea that it was created to push O’Malley’s anti-death penalty views forward in the General Assembly.
“I think that’s kind of a silly argument,” said Civiletti. “It attacks the integrity of every commissioner.”