It's time to step back and study death penalty

Moratorium: Legislature should want to ensure fairness before it kills again in the name of justice.

March 27, 2001

KILL FIRST. Ask questions later.

That's what Maryland officials will be doing if the General Assembly doesn't pass a death penalty moratorium bill this session.

They'll be strapping prisoners to gurneys -- as many as four this year -- and extinguishing their lives without knowing whether race or some other indecorous factor helped convict them.

They'll be taking life without taking caution -- an act that makes them no more scrupulous than the savages who kill for drugs or money.

That's no way to conduct public policy on behalf of all Marylanders, in whose names these lives are taken.

It's also completely unnecessary, because the moratorium bill -- which the House passed last week but still faces obstacles in the Senate -- could help clear up this moral morass.

The bill would halt the state's killing machine for two years, while a commission appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening investigates whether bias taints the trial or sentencing process. It would stop the state from executing someone now, only to find out two years down the road that the capital system is skewed or unfair.

Contrary to what some critics have asserted in Annapolis, this wouldn't give capital murderers a free pass. Their sentences would stand; final judgment on their lives would simply be delayed.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has complained that the moratorium bill is a sneaky way to bring Maryland closer to abolishing the death penalty. But that's also dubious reasoning.

If anything, death penalty proponents should be embracing the moratorium. It will give them a stronger argument for going forward with executions after the study is conducted, and flaws -- if any -- in the system are corrected.

It will allow them to stand tall in their positions, knowing that the men on death row were convicted under a system that has been vetted for issues that raise doubt about fairness and caution.

No one can make that claim now, because the study isn't finished. No one can say what factors play into the decisions that send convicts to their deaths in our criminal justice system, because until now, no one has bothered to look.

Simple fairness says we should ask and answer the questions surrounding Maryland's death penalty -- before we take another life in the name of justice.

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