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Death penalty bill sought by Md. Senate president seems derailed

Death penalty opponents appear to have derailed a bill sought by the Maryland Senate president that would have loosened rules passed last year on prosecuting capital cases.

Under the year-old law, prosecutors can now seek the death penalty only when at least one of three kinds of evidence are available: biological or DNA evidence; a videotaped confession; or a video recording linking the defendant to the crime.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Mike Miller mug.jpgThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Frosh mug.jpgA bill co-sponsored this year by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), at right, would add fingerprints and photographs to the categories of acceptable evidence. Death penalty opponents have fought the bill, saying it was a step in the wrong direction after Maryland adopted some of the tightest restrictions in the nation.

During a Judicial Proceedings Committee voting session late last week, Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), above left -- an opponent of capital punishment -- successfully added an amendment to the bill that would change the standard juries use when imposing the death penalty.

Under current law, juries must conclude by a "preponderance of the evidence" that aggravating factors (such as committing murder while committing another felony or murdering multiple people) outweigh mitigating factors (such as a defendant's history of abuse as a child). Frosh's amendment, which passed the committee 6 to 5, would raise that standard to "beyond a reasonable doubt."

With Frosh's "poison pill" amendment attached to the legislation, few on the committee wanted both parts of the bill. A vote on the entire bill, whose primary sponsor is Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), failed on a 9 to 2 vote.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee is planning to report its "unfavorable" recommendation to the Senate floor Tuesday night. At that point, it would take a rarely used parliamentary maneuver to resurrect the legislation for the full Senate to consider it.

By John Wagner  |  March 23, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , John Wagner  
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