Maryland became the 18th state, and the 6th in the last six years, to abolish the death penalty.
When Governor O’Malley signed the bill into law May 2 in Annapolis, the state capitol, he was flanked on the stage by NAACP president Ben Jealous and Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated after spending eight years on death row.
Jealous, thanking the governor, released a statement that said, “Tomorrow we will wake up in a state where we will never again have to worry if someone is put to death because of their color, class or in spite of their innocence.”
The NAACP and other organizations have long pointed out the racist nature of the death penalty.
Amnesty International released a report several years ago that showed while the number of white and black murder victims was relatively equal, 80 percent of those executed had murdered whites. Twenty percent of African Americans who were executed were tried by all white juries.
Another fallacy of the death penalty, opponents say, is the chance for fatal error.
Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in the 1970’s, the convictions of 142 death row inmates have been have been reversed.
Bloodsworth, a lifelong Maryland resident who served in the Marine Corp, was arrested in 1985 for the sexual assault and murder of a nine-year old girl. Throughout his trial and subsequent conviction, based solely on eyewitness testimony, he continued to maintain his innocence.
In 1993, Bloodsworth was released from prison when DNA testing of the physical evidence in the case did not match his profile. Bloodsworth became the first prisoner ever exonerated in the U. S. by DNA evidence.
Several years later the real killer, already an inmate in the Maryland system, was identified and convicted.
Death penalty opponents such as the NAACP and Maryland CASE (Marylanders Against State Executions) warned against complacency on the issue, however, as a right-wing coalition pledged to have the issue placed on the ballot in the next general election.
Last year voters upheld Marriage Equality and the Maryland Dream Act by state referendum, defeating similar repeal efforts.
Another area of concern is that the present bill was written so as not to cover the five inmates already on Maryland death row.
Photo: Members of the Maryland House of Delegates attend a debate on the measure to ban capital punishment – which was later passed in the state. Patrick Semansky/AP