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VIDEO: Should Maryland Abolish the Death Penalty?

Share your thoughts about efforts in Annapolis to repeal the state's capital punishment law.

Proposed legislation to repeal Maryland's death penalty is scheduled to be heard by state lawmakers in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday afternoon in Annapolis. 

Before the hearing, supporters of repeal are set to hold an 11:30 a.m. press conference Wednesday in the House Office Building with NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and relatives of murder victims. The two bills pending in the Senate and House have 85 co-sponsors between them.

Repeal advocates are expected to argue that years of death penalty appeals torment families of murder victims who otherwise would never hear from a defendant sentenced to life in prison.  

Patch caught up with Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger—who supports the death penalty—and Kirk Bloodsworth, the state's leading anti-death penalty advocate, to help frame the debate. (See video.)

Tell us your opinion in comments below.

Both Shellenberger and Bloodsworth offer passionate reasons for their opinions on the death penalty.

Shellenberger said there needs to be an "ultimate punishment" for those who commit certain heinous acts, including the killing of a police officer or the murder of a correctional officer by a prisoner.

"What do you tell the family of a correctional officer when a defendant is already serving life for murder and then they killed your loved one?" Shellenberger said. "There has to be an ultimate penalty."

Bloodsworth served eight years, 10 months and 19 days in prison, including two years on death row, for the 1984 murder of a 9-year-old girl in Rosedale. DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime and Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993.

"Honestly, after what happened to me, no one can say it can’t happen again..." Bloodsworth said. "We need to get rid of it."

Currently, Maryland has five defendants sitting on death row, including three who have avoided being executed since 1983.

The state has executed five men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the last being Wesley Baker in 2005 for the 1991 murder of grandmother Jane Tyson. She was shot and killed during an armed robbery in a Catonsville parking lot in front of her 6-year-old granddaughter and 4-year-old grandson.

Since Baker's execution, Maryland has established some of the most stringent policies in the country for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Shellenberger said since 2009 capital cases in the state are limited to those with "biological or DNA evidence proving guilt, a videotaped confession or a videotape that can link the defendant to a homicide."

Those restrictions, Shellenberger said, practically eliminates the chances of someone being wrongly convicted of capital murder and offer enough safeguards to ensure those improperly imprisoned—like Bloodsworth—are freed.

Baltimore County has only sought the death penalty twice since the new restrictions were put in place, Shellenberger said. Both cases involved defendants in the 2010 murder of Hess gas station owner William "Ray" Porter.

Walter Bishop   after shooting Porter twice at the East Joppa Road station in Towson after he told police he was promised $9,000 from Porter's wife, Karla.

Shellenberger said he will seek the death penalty against Karla Porter, who is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

"I believe that Maryland right now has the most restrictive death penalty statute in the country," Shellenberger said. "[The legislature has] added conditions to our death penalty statute that basically said you can not rely solely on eyewitness testimony, that if you want to go forward with a death penalty case you would also need DNA linking the defendant to the crime, or a video taped confession or an actual video of the murder taking place itself."

Bloodsworth counters that the justice system is far from perfect. He stated that 140 death row inmates have been wrongly convicted in the United States and 280 people have been cleared of crimes through DNA, including 17 on death row.

Bloodsworth also cited the work of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment which recommended in 2008 that the state should repeal the death penalty for fear of executing an innocent person along with concerns over racial and geographic disparities.

Bloodsworth added that that requiring someone to spend the rest of their life in prison is a far worse punishment than having that person executed.

"The crime that I was accused of, and ultimately went to death row for and was later exonerated, the real perpetrator after the fact was never given the death penalty," Bloodsworth said. "I think that it's a better punishment for people because they have to sit in this place for the rest of their lives knowing what they did."

The question is: Where do you stand on repealing Maryland's death penalty? Share your answers in the comments section below.

just_my_opinion March 08, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I don't see how there can be a $50,000 per year difference in the cost of housing a LWOP inmate and a DR inmate. As a former corrections officer of a max security prison the LWOP inmates were locked down 23 hours of the day just like the DR inmates are......personally I think it's like just about every other govt agency and the numbers are so far inflated it isn't funny. I guess for me it also boils down to why should we support this person to live for the rest of his life when his victim(s) are dead and his family has to suffer for the rest of their lives.
Ryan Stavely March 09, 2012 at 12:57 AM
One one hand we have facts. On the other we have the opinion of some random person on the internet. I think I'll stick to the facts.
j jones March 09, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I agree if the evidence is solid that the death penalty should be applied, particularly in certain cases.
j jones March 09, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Other than extreme cases, particularly when there is DNA evidence or other concrete evidence, I definitely believe in the death penalty. I would think statistics show that in the majority of criminals, such as hard-core, rehabilitation does not work. And I for one, don't feel like taking care of them. Take a look at Charles Manson - the state of California is still taking care of him, can only imagine what they have spent on his care - what an affront to the people that were slaughtered by his crew. And no, he did not participate in the killings, he was the catalyst behind them.
edward myers March 09, 2012 at 11:01 PM
well tell the marines that the state does not have the right to take life , as the post i was replying to stated, also if you worry about executing an inocent person after all of the automatic appeals, you must be beside your self at all of the innocent people being shot and killed almost every day in this country by police who thought that they are armed yet no one is trying to abolish police procedures that allow police to fire first even though this would stop innocent lives from being lost .the fact is that the guilty get plea bargins and that bothers me too, the idea that an innocent man defending himself has a better chance of getting the death penulty than a guilty man taking a bargin, but the problem is getting the leagal system to cost less and if you have a case with video or dna or video and dna than conviction and execution should be quick and cheap.

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