Md. death penalty study is delayed

Researchers say 2 months are needed to complete it

September 24, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Researchers need two more months to complete a much-anticipated study on the fairness of Maryland's death penalty, the University of Maryland announced yesterday.

The delay means the study won't become public until after the November election - allowing gubernatorial candidates Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to avoid the contentious topic as they campaign.

At a news conference yesterday at College Park, Raymond Paternoster, a criminology professor and the study's lead investigator, said he was having trouble gathering all the information he needs from homicides committed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The study was commissioned two years ago by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who provided $225,000 in the budget to pay for research into whether the death penalty statute is used fairly based on race and jurisdiction.

In May, as four death warrants were making their way to his desk for review, Glendening reversed his position on a death-penalty moratorium and pledged not to approve any executions before the study was published and the next legislature had a chance to consider it when it meets in January.

Raquel Guillory, Glendening's spokeswoman, said the governor did not object to the postponement. "He sees no problem with extending the date," she said. "We want this to be a thorough review, with as much time as they need to make a thorough review."

Paternoster has said he can complete the study by Dec. 31 - without extra money.

Lieutenant Governor Townsend, a Democrat, has praised the moratorium and said she looks forward to the study results. Congressman Ehrlich, her Republican opponent, has said he sees no need for a moratorium and is somewhat skeptical of the study. Both candidates support the death penalty.

Paternoster's task is to examine every homicide case from 1978 to 1999. He and his assistants have narrowed the initial list of 6,000 cases to 1,400 death-penalty eligible cases. Each of those is being analyzed to rule out obvious reasons why prosecutors would seek the death penalty, such as number of victims and criminal history of defendants, Paternoster said.

He will then do a statistical analysis of the results, which should show whether bias might be present, he said.

Fourteen men are on Maryland's death row.

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