Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

January 18, 2003

Does the death penalty have a future?

Given the study showing racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty, perhaps it is time for the General Assembly and the Ehrlich administration to consider abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with a sentence of life without parole ("Racial factor found in Md. capital cases," Jan. 8).

And I mean life without parole: Conviction means you die in prison, no parole, no commutation, no time off for any reason. Indeed, the prospect of decades in a cage might be more of a deterrent than the idea of a quick needle-stick in the arm.

There are moral and practical reasons to replace capital punishment.

Morally, the growing number of inmates, both on and off death row, who have been exonerated by modern technology, principally DNA, is the major factor. A wrongfully convicted person can always be freed - and should be compensated - but there has been only one resurrection.

Practically, the death sentence is a budget-buster for the judicial system.

Capital cases, with their attendant appeals up and down the state and federal court systems, take years and can cost $1 million or more.

And capital punishment has spawned a whole industry in the legal system of prosecutors and defenders, public and private.

The costs for this enterprise would certainly decline dramatically if the threat of death were removed.

Robert A. Erlandson

Towson

The results of the purportedly comprehensive study of Maryland's death penalty commissioned by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening were a foregone conclusion.

The basis for the study was convictions in death penalty cases. But what the study and The Sun's article "Racial factor found in Md. capital cases" ignored, as do most debates on the racial impact of death penalty cases, is that in our state's most populous jurisdictions, the death penalty is almost never used.

Since Kurt L. Schmoke assumed the office decades ago, the Baltimore City state's attorney's office has prosecuted but one capital murder case, that of Flint Gregory Hunt.

Despite averaging approximately 300 murders a year, Baltimore's top criminal prosecutors have elected not to pursue capital punishment where the law says it may apply.

This isn't uneven racial application of the death penalty, it is a refusal by certain prosecutors' offices to apply the law promulgated by the legislature and advocated by the people of the state.

If the death penalty were applied as the law requires, there would be no basis for claims of racial inequities.

What the report and The Sun should be questioning is why prosecutors in Baltimore City, Prince George's County and Montgomery County don't use the law they were elected to uphold.

J. Shawn Alcarese

Timonium

Was anyone surprised that the death penalty study found that capital punishment is applied unevenly based on the geographic location where the case is tried?

As evidenced once again when a person accused of shooting four police officers walked out of jail, it's hard enough to get the Baltimore City state's attorney's office to press charges, let alone ask for the death penalty ("Prosecutor to drop charges in shooting of four officers," Jan. 7).

City prosecutors constantly send the message to criminals that there will be no consequences for their actions.

And then everyone wonders why the city's murder rate is still so high.

Katherine Miller

Dundalk

I wholeheartedly agree with The Sun's editorial urging Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to continue the moratorium on executions ("Keep the moratorium," Jan. 9).

Now that the commission initiated by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening determined that race is a factor in capital punishment cases, the next logical step would be to stop all executions until this issue can be fairly resolved.

And racial discrimination is not the only problem with the death penalty. Mistaken convictions are another.

Although I support capital punishment, I have grown increasingly concerned about the number of people wrongly convicted and confined under our system of justice.

Too many people have been wrongly convicted and confined. Some have spent many years in jail for crimes they did not commit.

A glaring example is the Baltimore man recently released after spending more than 20 years of his life in jail ("Out of jail, new challenges," June 18). Just imagine losing 20 years of your life for nothing.

We are all human and we all make mistakes.

But when it comes to capital punishment, let us be absolutely certain about what we do in the name of justice.

June Clendening

Ocean Pines

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