Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Maryland Repeals Death Penalty

On May 2, 2013, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty, and the 18th state – along with the District of Columbia – that has rejected capital punishment. Maryland is the first Southern state to forgo executions in nearly half a century, joining West Virginia, with its 1964 repeal, as the only states below the Mason-Dixon Line without capital punishment on the books.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who has been fighting the state's death penalty with legislative efforts since 2007, and who signed the repeal bill, said in a press release, "Maryland has effectively eliminated a policy that is proven not to work. Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias, and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole." He added, "Furthermore, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death."

The death penalty repeal, which goes into effect on October 1, 2013, does not explicitly apply to the five men currently on Maryland's death row. The state's last execution took place in 2005 when Governor Robert Ehrlich was in office. Present law allows the governor to commute the condemned prisoners' sentences to life without parole, and O'Malley has said he will consider doing so on a case-by-case basis.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who was the first person in the U.S. to be freed from death row based on DNA evidence, attended the signing ceremony for the repeal bill. "Twenty-eight years ago I was sitting in a death row cell, and it became clear to me that we could execute an innocent man," he stated. Bloodsworth, who was wrongly sentenced to death for the murder of a 9-year-old girl, said at a news conference, "No innocent person will ever be executed in this state again."

Whether the repeal of the death penalty will actually go into effect, however, is uncertain. Opponents of the repeal are working to gather 55,736 signatures by June 30, and if successful Maryland's death penalty would go to the voters to decide in a referendum in the November 2014 elections. State Delegate Neil Parrott, a Republican lawmaker who is among those leading the referendum drive, vowed to keep fighting for capital punishment. Most polls indicate that Maryland voters are almost evenly split on the issue.

Alba Morales, a U.S. criminal justice researcher with Human Rights Watch, hailed Governor O'Malley's efforts. "Maryland did the right thing by ending government-sanctioned killing. The 32 states that still allow the death penalty should follow Maryland's lead and end this inhumane practice."

Capital punishment in the United States has been on the decline for several years, with 43 executions in 2012 and 3,170 prisoners on death rows nationwide, compared with 52 executions and 3,297 death-sentenced prisoners in 2009. Since 1973, 142 people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death have been released.

Sources:, Baltimore Sun,,,,,, www.death

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login