Death penalty protocols

Our view : Repeal of the law must be pursued

May 27, 2008

Gov. Martin O'Malley has reluctantly set in motion the process to resume state executions. He didn't really have much of a choice after the U.S. Supreme Court last month upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection. That's when Mr. O'Malley lost his main reason for delaying a redrafting of the execution protocols that had been invalidated by the Maryland Court of Appeals more than a year ago. Last week, he ordered state public safety officials to begin the rewrite. Capital punishment has lost support among Marylanders, but it remains the law, unfortunately, and governors often are called upon to enforce laws that they morally oppose.

Mr. O'Malley's opposition to the death penalty may be rooted in his faith, but there are plenty of reasons for the governor to mount a determined fight for repeal during next year's legislative session. As a crime deterrent, the impact of capital punishment is unproved. Taxpayers bear much of the costs of defending someone charged with a capital crime, and for victims' families, the appeals process is interminable. And in Maryland, the death penalty has rightly come under attack because of concerns about racial and geographic bias. Only one vote has stopped bills to repeal Maryland's death penalty law from getting out of a state legislative committee in recent years. But Mr. O'Malley won't be called upon to sign a death warrant any time soon - he's asked state public safety officials to consult with an array of medical professionals as they redraft the protocols for lethal injection. Many doctors have refused to participate in an execution, and a lack of experienced personnel in the execution chamber has led to bungled administrations of the drugs.

The revised protocols also could get stuck in the General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, which is co-chaired by Prince George's Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a death penalty opponent.

And if new rules are passed by lawmakers and an execution is imminent, Mr. O'Malley should invoke the other powers of his office: staying an execution or commuting a death sentence to life without parole.

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