Most county legislators back death penalty

Political notebook

February 25, 2007|By Larry Carson

Howard may seem like a politically liberal county to some, especially with a lopsided delegation of eight Democrats and three Republicans, but party affiliation does not seem to matter on the emotional issue of the repeal of the death penalty, currently under discussion in Annapolis.

While Gov. Martin O'Malley is for repeal, only three of Howard County's 11 state legislators agree, though a fourth is open to the possibility, according an informal poll of the delegation members.

All three state senators and four of the eight delegates -- three Republicans and four Democrats -- oppose repeal.

The anti-death penalty movement has no friends in District 9, where three Republicans represent the western county and Ellicott City.

Prison safety is on state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman's mind. He feels that eliminating the death penalty could make prisons more dangerous because inmates sentenced to life without parole would have nothing to lose.

"If those prisoners know there's no possibility of death, they can just go on a rampage in prison," he said.

Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller said they believe that -- despite years of appeals and lengthy delays -- the possibility of death is a deterrent.

"Some say it's not a deterrent, but I believe it is," said Bates, though she agrees that delays reduce that effect.

"Justice should be fair, but swift," she said

Miller said that in addition to being a deterrent, the death penalty helps ensure that sentences will not be modified to allow criminals with life sentences out of jail.

"If you get the death penalty, you know you're going to be in prison for life," he said.

In District 12, covering west Columbia, a small part of Ellicott City, Elkridge and southwestern Baltimore County, the views among four Democrats are split.

"I support the death penalty. I always have. I think it's a cultural heritage," said state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.

Two of his district's three delegates take the same stance.

Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., a retired Baltimore County police officer, said, "I've been to too many police funerals and too many victims' funerals. The Vernon Evans case was just a cold-blooded execution," he said, referring to a Maryland death row inmate convicted of contract murder in the 1983 Pikesville motel shooting of two people.

Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat and a career Baltimore County firefighter, made a point similar to Kittleman's in explaining his support for the death penalty.

"The only fear an inmate has is the fear of being put to death," Malone said.

But Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former county executive and veteran legislator, sharply disagreed. She is a co-sponsor of the death penalty repeal bill.

"It's pretty clear it's not working as a deterrent. There are too many mistakes," she said.

Bobo added: "I've never been able to understand how we can teach people not to murder by killing them."

State. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat and District 13 senator who spent 32 years as a police officer and Howard County police chief, said he agrees that the death penalty is really not much of a deterrent, but he feels "some crimes are just so heinous. To me, the death penalty is the appropriate sanction."

His district's three delegates, all Democrats who represent the L-shaped southeastern county area, do not agree, however.

Dels. Frank S. Turner and Guy Guzzone favor repeal. Del. Shane E. Pendergrass said she would consider it, depending on the practicalities.

"I have supported the death penalty, but if it were shown to me that it is cheaper to get rid of it, I would support getting rid of it," Pendergrass said.

"For me, it's practical. I will wait and see what the case is and make up my mind on the numbers," she said.

Turner said he has mixed feelings, but would support repeal because the time and expense of appeals mean the death penalty isn't a deterrent.

The racial disparity in which more African-Americans are sentenced to death than whites bothers him, he said, but "on the other hand, I think that in certain cases, involving mass murder, killing children and murder for hire you should still carry the death penalty"

At the same time, sentences of life without parole would save $4 million to $5 million per case in appeal costs, he said. "I just don't really think it's worth the trouble."

Guzzone, a freshman delegate, noted people who are mistakenly convicted in death penalty cases.

"Until we become foolproof in determining guilt or innocence, I'm inclined to go that way [repeal]." In addition, Guzzone said, "Unless I'd be willing to do something myself, I'd not want to ask the state to do it for me."

Clarification

In this space last week, Wendy Royalty of Ellicott City expressed opinions about County Executive Ken Ulman's decision to replace four women department heads with men. She was speaking as an individual, not in her capacity as co-chair of the Women's Leadership Network of the Maryland Democratic Party.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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