Maryland Governor Ends Death Penalty Immediately

Governor Martin O'Malley.Governor Martin O’Malley. (Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program)In an ironic twist, Maryland has killed the death penalty a little sooner than anticipated. Just two years ago, state legislators decided to put an end to the controversial form of punishment moving forward. However, that still left four death row inmates lingering in a strange legal limbo. To stop capital punishment in the state once and for all, this week the governor announced a reprieve for each of the four inmates.

Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who will be leaving office next month, decided to commute the sentences to life in prison without the chance of parole in an effort to save the state from inevitable trouble. Given the new law, the death row inmates would have a solid reason to legally challenge their own sentences, which would wind up costing the state a lot of time and money. Additionally, O’Malley cited the dubious morality of killing the remaining inmates after the legislators had declared capital punishment inhumane.

“The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand,” said O’Malley. “In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland.”

It’s not as though Maryland was carrying out Texas-levels of executions anyway. There have been just five executions in the past four decades, with the last one occurring back in 2005. By taking this step, O’Malley was merely closing this chapter a little earlier than scheduled. Even without commuting the inmates’ sentences, it’s most likely that all four inmates would have died naturally in prison before their executions were ever scheduled.

Larry Hogan, a Republican and the soon-to-be governor of the Maryland, is on the record for being in favor of the death penalty. Nonetheless, Hogan has stated that he has no intention of attempting to undo O’Malley’s decision to pull the plug on capital punishment when he assumes the state’s highest office. “I’m not in a place to second-guess,” said Hogan. “I am sure Governor O’Malley made his choice after a great deal of consultation and a thorough review of the facts.”

Before announcing his decision, O’Malley spoke to the families of the victims of the inmates remaining on death row. Not all of these contacted individuals were on board with O’Malley’s plan, however. Mary Moore, whose parents were murdered in 1996, is “devastated” by the development. “I kinda lost a little faith in the judicial system,” she said. “I don’t know how someone can pick up a pen and change the sentencing of someone.” Meanwhile, O’Malley expressed that by avoiding the lengthy appeals process, he hoped the families could at least find some closure.

Maryland isn’t the only state in the nation where the death penalty is on the outs. This past year, only 35 people were formally executed, the lowest number in 20 years. At this point, a whopping 72% of U.S. states have either put executions on indefinite hold, not executed anyone for at least five years, or have gotten rid of the death penalty altogether.