Why doesn't O'Malley clear death row?
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley staunchly opposes the death penalty: Given its flaws -- the lack of deterrent impact, the risk of a wrongful execution, high costs -- capital punishment can be neither morally nor practically justified, he argues.
The issue moves him to eloquence. “Human dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of this state and this republic are founded,” O’Malley wrote in a 2007 Post op-ed. “And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.”
As governor, O’Malley supported the creation of a Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which called for the abolition of the death penalty based on racial bias and other alleged inequities in the Maryland death penalty. Brandishing those findings, the governor fought for an abolition law last year, falling just short of victory. He and his allies in the state legislature have taken their time about resolving administrative issues with the state’s lethal injection protocols, thus prolonging a Court of Appeals-imposed de facto moratorium on executions.
“I’m really not looking for a medal,” O’Malley told The Post last year. “I’m not looking for applause. I just believe that it’s the right thing to do, and therefore I must try.”
But I wonder: If O’Malley is so courageous, and this is such an issue of principle for him, why are there still five people on death row in Maryland? Why doesn’t he commute their sentences to life imprisonment, as Maryland’s constitution and laws empower him to do? It would certainly be a more permanent -- and forthright -- approach than this indirect foot-dragging routine with the lethal injection protocols.
To be sure, clearing Death Row wouldn’t achieve his ultimate goal of abolishing the death penalty. But it would save the lives of five people sentenced under what the Commission on Capital Punishment has told the governor was an irretrievably flawed process -- and whose executions, according to O’Malley, would serve no purpose even if that process had been absolutely pristine.
When the governor visited The Post on Jan. 21, I asked him these questions -- ready for almost any response but the stunningly unconvincing one he actually gave.
O’Malley suggested that there might be some technical problem with a simultaneous commutation of all five sentences. “I don’t know off the top of my head legally whether I’d be prohibited from doing the joint blanket commutation or not,” he mused, adding that “the best course to follow is to handle each case individually.”
Okay, a colleague ventured, what about doing them one at a time? O’Malley hemmed and hawed again, offering a defense of his anti-death penalty legislative efforts and taking credit for Maryland’s improving murder rate. “Of course part of my duties require me to evaluate requests for pardons, requests for commutations and other things, and I’ll handle them in the due course,” he concluded.
I gave him one more chance, asking whether he was waiting for the death row inmates to ask for clemency. To which O’Malley’s remarkable reply was: “I haven’t looked at any of the files of the five.”
For the record, according to several experts on the subject with whom I spoke, nothing in Maryland law prohibits the governor from pardoning or commuting the sentences of any prisoner or prisoners he wants, for whatever reason he wants, whether or not the prisoner requests clemency first.
O’Malley’s inability to muster one plausible, principled reason not to commute the death sentences tells me that he’s playing politics. O’Malley’s liberal Democratic party base dislikes the death penalty. But, overall, voters in the state support it 53 percent to 41 percent -- and much of that support is concentrated in Baltimore County, a swing jurisdiction in statewide elections. Clearing death row might turn pro-death penalty voters against O’Malley and hurt his re-election chances this fall.
I suppose O’Malley’s re-election might be so important to the long-run cause of abolishing the death penalty in Maryland that it is worth exposing five actual condemned men to prolonged uncertainty, not to mention the risk of possible execution, in the here and now. But I’d sure like to see someone try to argue that publicly.
Meanwhile, O’Malley ducks the issue of executive clemency -- to the extent he thinks about it at all. He’s right: they don’t give medals for that.
Posted by: cperk88 | January 25, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: surfer-joe | January 25, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: neilwied | January 26, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Greenwaver | January 26, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jboogie1 | January 26, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: CriticalPass | January 26, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jckdoors | January 26, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.