One week after the Maryland Senate passed a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty, the House of Delegates is poised to do the same.
But in spite of the expected success of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to abolish capital punishment, there are Republicans and Democrats in the House still arguing that Maryland should be able to sentence to death the worst of the worst, such as people who enter schools and murder children and teachers.
A number of them intend to offer amendments to that effect starting Wednesday.
Amendments to keep the death penalty for contract killings and the murder of a law enforcement officer or correctional facility guard in the line of duty — among others — failed in the House Judiciary Committee last week. Many are expected to be debated again before the entire House.
Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico, will reintroduce an emotionally charged amendment Wednesday that would allow the state to pursue the death penalty for people who commit murders on school grounds, such as the case involving the young man, Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December.
Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, said Friday the General Assembly is creating gun control legislation as a result of school shootings, “and here is an amendment that will punish the person.”
“If the Sandy Hook shooter were here (in Maryland), I doubt we would be defending his right to live,” said Delegate C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, who will introduce a floor amendment to keep the death penalty in cases in which an inmate convicted of murder kills another person while serving a sentence.
Many opponents of the repeal of the death penalty, including House Democrats Wilson and Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, often cite a case closer to home that affected this area more than a decade ago.
In 2002, John Allen Muhammad, referred to as the “D.C. sniper,” murdered 10 people in the Washington area, six of them in Montgomery County.
The Montgomery County judge presiding over the case, Judge James L. Ryan, sentenced Muhammad to six terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
In a separate trial, Virginia instead gave Muhammad the death sentence for a sniper shooting that took place in Manassas, Va. Muhammad was executed in Virginia by lethal injection in 2009.
Delegate Glen Glass, R-Harford, will reintroduce an amendment that would keep the death penalty available for people guilty of mass murders.
The House floor leader of the bill, Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, said he and other co-sponsors are confident that a majority of delegates will support the bill that would replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole for people who commit the most “heinous” crimes.
A strong advocate of keeping capital punishment, Delegate Susan McComas, R-Harford, asked whether people would feel safer after repealing the death penalty.
“I don’t think so,” McComas said. “That’s how I see it and I’m concerned for everybody.”
The House is slated to discuss amendments Wednesday during one of two sessions.