Tuesday, January 21, 2003


Maryland's Death Penalty Could Resume Soon

....On the second-floor hospital unit of the Maryland penitentiary in Baltimore, members of the execution team are going through drills -- complete with artificial arms and feet -- to anticipate the problems that could arise when the state puts people to death.

The drills were stopped last year after then-Gov. Parris Glendening stayed one execution and declared a moratorium on capital punishment.

Glendening, a Democrat, said he worried in part that different prosecution practices meant the death penalty was a "lottery of jurisdiction" based on where murders were committed, not a defensible end to the most heinous crimes.

But with the election and inauguration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, the moratorium is essentially over. Ehrlich pledged during his campaign to lift it and has hinted of no change of mind during his first days in office.

All the system needs to restart is a prosecutor's decision to proceed and a judge's signature on a warrant. Both could come any day, presaging the first execution since 1998.

The 12 men on death row spend their days waiting and wondering. A few have come within weeks, even days of dying in the past and could quickly do so again. It's possible there could be multiple executions this year for the first time since 1959.

Relatively speaking, Maryland isn't a killing state. It has executed 83 men in the past eight decades. Virginia executed the same number in a quarter of that time.

"The people of Maryland haven't really had to think much about capital punishment in the real sense in a long time," said lawyer H. Mark Stichel, who represents the sole Prince George's County murderer in the group. "We've only had three executions in the modern era, and one of those was a volunteer."