Concerned that Maryland could put to death more people next year than it has during the past 34, opponents of capital punishment urged Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to impose a moratorium on executions in the state.
"Maryland is starting to look more like Texas or Virginia. Obviously, something's wrong, something's broken," says Michael Stark of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, which organized a rally of more than 100 demonstrators in front of the Supermax prison on East Madison Avenue in Baltimore.
Three people have been executed in Maryland since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But in an unusual coincidence, there's a chance that four men on death row, all in the final stages of their appeals, could go to the state's execution chamber next year.
Death penalty foes have seized on this possibility to draw attention to issues such as racial bias and wrongful convictions of death-row inmates.
Questions about the legitimacy of the death penalty have been growing in Maryland and across the country, although perhaps not as quickly as advocates would like.
"We're at a crossroads," says Jeanette Ravendhran, a protester from Eldersburg. "The death penalty is under fire like it never has been before."
In January, Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan, a death penalty supporter, declared a moratorium on executions in his state after doubts emerged about the guilt of several condemned inmates.
Some Maryland legislators are calling for a similar action. Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat, has said he plans to sponsor a bill to abolish the death penalty. Several past attempts by legislators have failed.
Glendening this year agreed to a $225,000 study of whether racial bias plays a role in death penalty cases in Maryland. Of the 16 convicts now sentenced to die, 11 are black, giving the state one of the highest proportions of African-Americans on death row in the nation.
The study, which is to be completed next summer, is the third to examine the issue in the past decade.
But for now the governor is not considering a moratorium on executions, spokesman Michael Morrill said yesterday.
"What he is doing is examining each case on its own individual merits," Morrill said. "He spends a lot of time on each one."
In June, the governor granted clemency to Eugene Colvin-el, 55, who was sentenced to die for the 1980 stabbing death of Lena Buckman, 82, in Pikesville. Colvin-el is serving life without parole.
Morrill said he's not sure how the governor or the public will react if the four men facing the death penalty go to the execution chamber at about the same time.
Wesley Baker was sentenced to death for killing Jane Tyson in the parking lot of Westview Mall in 1991.
Steven Oken was convicted of sexually assaulting Dawn Marie Garvin in her White Marsh home, then shooting her twice in the head in 1987.
Vernon Lee Evans Jr. and Anthony Grandison Sr. were sentenced to die for their roles in a 1983 murder-for-hire scheme.