With Maryland preparing to execute its second death row inmate in two months and other states raising questions about the death penalty process, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Maryland should reinstate the moratorium that he imposed on executions until the state can guarantee a system free from discrimination and doubts about convicted killers' guilt.
Glendening expressed disappointment that the issues raised in a University of Maryland study that he commissioned on the state's application of capital punishment have not been addressed by the governor or General Assembly. And he voiced concern that statistics on the number of death row inmates exonerated in recent years suggest the likelihood that an innocent person has been put to death somewhere in the United States.
"At some point, I have no doubt, our state will come together more as a civil community and demand that these issues be addressed," he said yesterday in an hourlong interview in Annapolis. "It would be nice if it was sooner rather than later because people will be sentenced and people will be executed under what has proven itself to be a discriminatory process."
A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said it's no surprise that Glendening would support another moratorium, considering that's the action he took while in office.
"His position has not changed," Greg Massoni said of the former governor. "Our position has not changed either, and that is that we look at each case individually."
Ehrlich has declined to intervene in the scheduled executions of two death row inmates, including Wesley Eugene Baker, who was put to death last month for the 1991 killing of a grandmother outside a Baltimore County shopping mall.
During his eight years in the governor's mansion, Glendening declined to stop the executions of two men - Flint Gregory Hunt and Tyrone X. Gilliam - and commuted the death sentence of another convicted killer - Eugene Colvin-el - whose guilt he questioned. When Baker's case came across his desk in May 2002, Glendening stayed the scheduled execution and imposed a moratorium to allow a University of Maryland death penalty study to be completed and reviewed.
The state-funded study, which was released eight days before Glendening left office in January 2003, found no evidence that the race of the defendant matters in the processing of capital cases in Maryland but that statistically, black defendants who killed whites were the most likely to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death. The researchers also found that Baltimore County prosecutors are far more likely than their peers elsewhere to seek the death penalty.
Opponents of capital punishment have since complained that nothing has been done in response to those findings.
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday that she intends to refile this year a bill that she introduced during the last legislative session to abolish capital punishment in Maryland. She said she expects a similar bill to be filed in the House.
Glendening, who has spent his time since leaving office working as president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and serving on the American Bar Association's death penalty advisory committee, said he has watched with interest the debate over capital punishment taking shape in other states.
He mentioned in particular Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's request for DNA testing on evidence in the case of a coal miner convicted of raping and murdering his sister-in-law and executed by the state in 1992, as well as the case of Ruben Cantu, a convicted killer put to death in Texas in 1993. The Houston Chronicle reported in November that the only eyewitness to the murder for which Cantu was executed has recanted his statement to police, suggesting that Texas might have killed an innocent man.
Other states have imposed or are considering moratoriums.
In 2000, then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan called off all scheduled executions in his state, commuted the death sentences of the 167 prisoners on Illinois' death row and proposed overhauling the death penalty system. Ryan's successor, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, has continued the moratorium, according to news reports.
New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to suspend executions while a task force studies the fairness and costs of the death penalty, the Associated Press reported. And in California, a state Assembly committee approved a bill Tuesday that would impose a two-year moratorium on the death penalty while a state commission completes a review of California's executions, according to news reports.
In Maryland, a Baltimore County judge signed a death warrant Monday for Vernon L. Evans Jr., scheduling the longtime death row inmate's execution for the week of Feb. 6. Convicted of the 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel clerks, Evans would be the second black man put to death in Maryland for killing white victims since the release of the University of Maryland study.
"Increasingly, as a nation and as a state, we ought to focus on this, give a lot more thought to it than we have and get away from some of the pure anger, some of the eye-for-an-eye anger, and say as rationally as possible, `Do we want this?'" Glendening said of the death penalty.
If the answer is yes, he said, then states must be able to guarantee that there is no question of the guilt of the inmates on death row and no question that the system under which they were sentenced is not discriminatory.
"That probably means," he said, "that we should have a significant pause in executions nationwide."