Thursday, August 21, 2008

Victims' relatives, bishops speak against state executions

By Jennifer McMenamin, Baltimore Sun reporter - August 20, 2008

ANNAPOLIS - A group of relatives of murder victims called on state lawmakers yesterday to repeal the death penalty, complaining that the long appeals process that accompanies capital murder prosecutions drags families through painful delays without delivering the justice that the system initially promises.

Standing with their arms around each other's shoulders and holding photos of their loved ones, 10 people delivered a letter signed by dozens more like them to the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which held the third of its four scheduled hearings yesterday in Annapolis. The panel is examining disparities in the application of the death penalty, the cost differential between litigating prolonged capital punishment cases and life imprisonment, and the impact of DNA evidence.

Like many others who spoke at yesterday's five-hour hearing, the victims' family members asked the commission to recommend the replacement of the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither," Lisa Delity, a schoolteacher from Bowie, told the commission, reading from the letter signed by 49 Marylanders who have lost relatives to murder. "Capital punishment drags victims' loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process, holding out the promise of one punishment in the beginning and often resulting in a life sentence in the end anyway." [...]

Commission members also heard yesterday from bishops representing the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches of Maryland, from a researcher who has studied the cost of the state's death penalty and from a prosecutor and two former prosecutors, all three of whom have handled capital cases but who have come to very different conclusions about its effectiveness.

The three church leaders -- Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, Bishop Eugene T. Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop John Schol of the United Methodist Church of Maryland -- spoke in favor of the abolishment of capital punishment, arguing that state executions do nothing to curb the violence that has poisoned so many communities in the state.

"How, in the end, does killing its citizens help the state to build the nonviolent, just and civil society that we all desire for ourselves and our children?" Sutton said. He later added, "We are not going to kill our way out of a culture that is awash in violence." [...]

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