Time to end death penalty is now

March 20, 2011

It's time for death penalty to receive an up or down vote in the Maryland General Assembly. I must strongly differ with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller who this week declared there to be "no sentiment in the Senate" ("Death penalty repeal unlikely this year," March 16) for the 2011 repeal bill.

The Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors this year (24 votes are required to pass), up from 16 two years ago. Meanwhile, the bill has 61 co-sponsors in the House.

Illinois just repealed the death penalty. Even though he started his term in favor of capital punishment, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the repeal bill last week. Along with his legislature, he came to see that implementing the death penalty was an expensive waste of state resources.

The costs to maintain a capital punishment system are enormous. In this time of tight budgets and painful cost cutting, Illinois has wisely moved to redirect its tax dollars to provide true support to the surviving families of homicide victims. Governor Quinn also recognized there's no way to be sure we will not execute an innocent person — a risk we continue to take in Maryland.

Maryland, like Illinois, has exhaustively studied its death penalty. We know the system can't escape human error, that it is racially discriminatory and applied unevenly around our state. It doesn't even deter murder but costs us about three times as much as locking murderers up for life.

If the General Assembly fails to debate and vote on death penalty repeal in 2011, another year of waste lies ahead. At least six capital prosecutions are now underway in Maryland. They will consume resources we desperately need to prevent crime, keep our prisons safe, and help victims. The time has come to just end it.

Stephanie Gibson, Baltimore

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Baltimore

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