A halt to executions is in order for Maryland

Capital punishment: The state should not tinker with the machinery of death.

May 15, 2000

GOV. Parris N. Glendening was wrong when he approved the execution of murderer Flint Gregory Hunt. The governor was wrong when he approved the execution of murderer Tyrone X. Gilliam. And the governor would be wrong to approve the execution next month of murderer Eugene Colvin-el.

Since 1976, states have executed some 630 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In each case, it was wrong.

The state must punish wrongdoers, but state-sanctioned killing is immoral -- period. Such blatant disregard for human life is no less repugnant, in fact, than the crimes of the cold-blooded killers who belong in prison.

The late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun supported the death penalty during most of his career. Before his retirement in 1984, however, he realized that he was wrong: "The death penalty experiment has failed," he wrote. "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death."

Years earlier, the late Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin expressed similar thoughts. He appeared before the legislature in the 1960s to testify about his remorse about the executions that took place when he was governor.

Governor Glendening may one day have second thoughts, too. But the prickly thing about executions is that you can't correct your mistakes. Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment when evidence emerged that innocent people sat on death row.

Mr. Glendening also has a reason to pause. He has approved a study to determine whether the administration of the death penalty is racially biased. While the study is underway, it would make no sense for him to allow Colvin-el to be executed for the murder of an 82-year-old woman in Pikesville 20 years ago.

Instead, the governor should reconsider his overall position on capital punishment. Even if he has no moral problems with it, as we do, he should reevaluate its purpose. If he thinks the death penalty is a deterrent to murder, he is mistaken. Texas has executed more than 200 people since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions in 1976. The state is second in population in the United States and second in homicides. Where's the deterrence?

Convicted killers are punished in Maryland. Those sentenced to life in prison serve life terms because Mr. Glendening discourages parole for murderers. This is how the state should handle killers. Those who kill are punished, and we, the people of Maryland, don't have to tinker with the machinery of death.

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