Rawlings, Schmoke call for moratorium on state executions

Noting `uncertainties,' they appeal to Glendening

May 18, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The move to halt executions in Maryland picked up support yesterday from two prominent Baltimore political figures, both of whom support the death penalty but say too many questions have been raised about how it is imposed.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings and former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke made the appeal to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in a letter that appeared in a half-page advertisement yesterday in The Sun.

"Because of all the uncertainties revealed about the implementation of the death penalty, we call upon the Governor to impose an immediate moratorium on executions as an act of conscience and mercy," the two men wrote.

The ad appeared as Glendening considers whether to commute the death sentence of Eugene Colvin-el. He is scheduled to be executed the week of June 12 for the 1980 robbery and fatal stabbing of Lena S. Buckman, 82, a Florida resident who was visiting her daughter in Pikesville.

Rawlings and Schmoke said they were not making a specific appeal for clemency for Colvin-el. Rather, they said, they want executions to stop while authorities examine questions that have been raised around the country about how the death penalty is applied.

In Illinois, Republican Gov. George Ryan, a death penalty backer, declared a moratorium because of concerns raised about the guilt of several prisoners there. William G. Paul, president of the American Bar Association, recently called on Glendening and other governors to halt executions.

Glendening has allocated $225,000 for a study of whether blacks in Maryland are more likely to be executed than whites.

Twelve of the 17 men facing execution in the state are black, including Colvin-el.

"Given the fact that the governor is studying it, he shouldn't be killing someone in the middle of that study," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

"There are some serious concerns" about the death penalty, said Schmoke, who practices law with a Washington-based firm. "It seems to me that taking a little bit of time to do further study makes sense."

Asked about the advertisement, Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the governor "absolutely understands their concerns. He takes this issue incredibly seriously."

Many black legislators have called on the governor to declare a moratorium on executions in the state. Glendening has considered a moratorium but has put the issue aside while he weighs the Colvin-el case, Morrill said.

The governor would give the case greater scrutiny than it would receive in the state study of the death penalty, Morrill said, adding, "In this particular case, the attention given to it will be much more thorough than a systemic review could ever provide."

One legislator who is an advocate of the death penalty said she had seen no evidence that a moratorium was needed in Maryland.

"If they have hard, fast evidence that this person is guilty and they have been sentenced to death, I think they need to follow through with that," said Del. Carmen Amedori, a Carroll County Republican.

Rawlings said he used money from his re-election fund to pay the $6,000 cost of the ad and asked Schmoke to join him.

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