ANNAPOLIS — Families of murder victims gathered outside the Maryland statehouse on Monday night to support Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to repeal Maryland’s death penalty.
Vicki Schieber’s daughter was raped and murdered 15 years ago while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Schieber said she wanted to see the death penalty repealed and for the state to offer more help for victims’ families.
“This is so hard on the families, because they wait years and years because they’re promised they’re gonna find peace and closure when they put this guy to death by execution, and many of them never see it ever happen,” Schieber said.
Her family, including her daughter, lived in Montgomery County for three decades. Schieber now lives in New Market and is on the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights board of directors.
O’Malley’s bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole and allocate more resources and support to victims’ families.
Marty Price’s father murdered his stepsister and stepmother. His father is serving a 60 year sentence in Hagerstown. “At the end of the day, when the dust settles, it’s really about resources and we have got to take the monies and put them towards families and children of victims so this doesn’t repeat its cycle,” Price says.
The argument goes beyond victim advocacy. Some believe the capital punishment system is unjust.
“The time has come. The death penalty is racially biased, it is not applied evenly across the state…it continues to risk the execution of an innocent person,” Jane Henderson from Maryland Citizens Against State Executions said. She said the death penalty is too costly and more detrimental to murder victims’ families than life in prison without parole.
Though the push to repeal the death penalty is not new, supporters believe with the governor’s backing they have a better chance of passing the legislation this year.
“I think that the legislature has been ready for this,” Schieber said. “Even ten years ago, probably the majority of people in this legislature would have said they wanted to keep the death penalty. I think they’ve come to understand that the facts just don’t support continuing to have it on the books in the state of Maryland.”
But opponents of the bill disagree and want to see the death penalty remain.
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is among those opponents.
“The Attorney General will not be actively participating in the death penalty debate in 2013. His focus will remain that if we continue to have the death penalty in Maryland, that it be administered in a fair and race neutral, socio-economically neutral manner,” David Paulson, communications director for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, said.
There have been five executions in Maryland since 1976, with five people on death row. There will be a joint House-Senate committee hearing in the Maryland legislature Feb. 14.