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Race | Innocence | Geography | Cost | Deterence | Victims

 

Race

Maryland State's Attorneys are 1.6 times more likely to ask for a death sentence for the murder of a white victim than for a black victim, according to a state-commissioned study done by the University of Maryland/College Park (UMD). And death is sought twice as often when the defendant is black and the victim is white than when both are black.

Within Maryland cases where State's Attorneys opt for the death penalty, blacks who kill whites are 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kill whites, and 3.5 times more likely than blacks who kill blacks.

All of the state's six current death row prisoners were sentenced for the murders of white citizens. Yet it is African Americans who are the victims of approximately 80 percent of homicides in Maryland annually.

Five men have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978 - all for murders of white citizens. Flint Gregory Hunt was a black man executed in 1997 for murdering a white Baltimore City police officer while he was strung out on heroin. When the mother of Hunt's son, a recovering heroin addict who was also black, was brutally raped and murdered in the city in 1989, her killer was sentenced to 20 years.

Today, the four Maryland prisoners who have nearly exhausted their appeals and could soon face execution are all black and were convicted of killing white people.

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Innocence

Once sentenced to death, Kirk Bloodsworth was released in 1993 when new DNA analysis proved that he did not commit the rape and murder of which he was convicted. After 10 years of refusing to acknowledge Bloodsworth's innocence, the Baltimore County State's Attorney finally used the DNA evidence to find the actual murderer in 2003.

Governor Parris Glendening commuted the death sentence of Eugene Colvin-el the week before he was to be executed in 2000 because he was not absolutely convinced of his guilt.

Doubt remains as to whether Wesley Baker fired the weapon that killed Mrs. Tyson. His co-defendant, Gregory Lawrence, pointed the finger at Baker and received a lesser sentence. Baker was executed on December 6, 2005.

Federal District Court Judge Frederick Motz said "no rational finder of fact could have found [Kevin] Wiggins guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt." The Supreme Court in 2003 overturned Kevin Wiggins' death sentence because his lawyers failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence to the jury that sentenced him to death. Prosecuting Baltimore County ultimately agreed to a sentence of life with parole rather than the usual minimum compromise of life without parole - perhaps best underscoring the strength of his innocence claims.

DNA testing exonerated Bernard Webster of rape in Baltimore County in 2002. A subsequent review of his case found that a Baltimore County forensic scientist gave testimony about blood evidence at Webster's 1983 trial that was "at the very least, suggestive of gross incompetence, and at worst, deliberate fraud." (Baltimore Sun, 2/22/03). This scientist was employed by the County for 10 years and a 2003 police audit identified nearly 500 rape, murder, and other criminal cases in which she testified.

As of June 2006, 123 people had been released from death row nationwide because they were found innocent.

Now retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, long considered a centrist on the Court, stated in 2001 that the judicial system "may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed."

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Geography

While the power to seek the death penalty comes from state law, locally-elected prosecutors, called State's Attorneys in Maryland, decide whether or not to seek death in individual cases.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra O'Connor proportionally seeks more death penalty sentences than any other local prosecutor in the United States.

Baltimore County accounts for the vast majority of state capital prosecutions and is most aggressively seeking executions; the County is more than 13 times more likely to seek the death penalty in an eligible case than is Baltimore City, and more than five times and three times more likely than Montgomery and Anne Arundel Counties, respectively. Yet the County is home to only six percent of Maryland's homicides.

Baltimore City and Prince George's County are where the vast majority of murders in the state occur (51 percent and 27 percent, respectively in 2005) and yet their State's Attorneys rarely seek the death penalty.

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Cost

Every credible study ever done has concluded that capital punishment costs more than a sentence of life without parole.

The Maryland Governor's Commission reported in 1993 that "the amount expended annually on capital cases is now approximately $2.0 million." The Commission also noted that "one cannot defend the death penalty as a cost saver."

Most studies estimate that each death sentence costs the state "$400,000 over and above what it would normally cost to process, and then maintain a prisoner serving a life sentence." (Judge Cathell, Maryland Court of Appeals.)

Retrials exacerbate capital punishment's cost. According to a national study at Columbia University, Maryland - Baltimore County in particular - has one of nation's highest appellate reversal rates, due in part to prosecutorial misconduct and error. Every Maryland death sentence handed down in this decade has been struck down in some court.

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Deterrence

Often, people who kill act quickly in moments of great fear or emotional stress, frequently under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and do not stop to consider the penalty of their actions.

84 percent of current and former presidents of the country's top academic criminological societies reject the notion the death penalty has any deterrent effect.

A 2000 survey by The New York Times found that ten of the twelve states without the death penalty have homicide rates below the national average, whereas half of the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above. Looking at two decades, the paper found that homicide rate in states with the death penalty have been 48% - 101% higher than in states without the death penalty.

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Victims

The death penalty consumes resources that could provide needed support for victims' families.

Increasingly, survivors of murder victims - including those on both sides of the moral debate about the death penalty - agreed the death penalty is much harder on victims' family members than LWOP. A sentence of LWOP offers victims finality over the years of appeals that come in capital cases, and it guarantees perpetrators certain obscurity in prison versus the inevitable media spectacle spawned by executions.

Many murder victims' family members oppose the death penalty. Marylanders Vicki and Syl Schieber, who lost their daughter Shannon to murder, and Bonnita Spikes, who lost her husband Michael, actively call for repeal of the death penalty, arguing that executions only contribute to the culture of violence that caused them to lose their loved ones.

Prince George's County prosecutors abandoned their pursuit of death for Robert M. Billett, convicted of the 2005 murder of County Police Sergeant Steven Gaughan, because the officer's family asked that they be spared the further heartache that would come with a second mandatory sentencing trial. Billett received more than a lifetime of prison time.

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