Death penalty foes rally, but hopes are slim this year

Religious opponents of the death penalty gathered at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis to urge legislators to pass a bill repealing capital punishment in Maryland this year, but the relatively small turnout reflected their slim hopes of extracting legislation from a committe in which they have yet to gain a majority.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy spoke out against executions before a few dozen supporters, making heartfelt but by now familiar arguments in a debate that is a hardy perennial in Annapolis.

"State-sponsored murder can be called many things, but it is also revenge," said the Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Episcopal bishop of Maryland. "A criminal justice system based on revenge is a system based on violence."

 Jane Henderson, executive director of rally sponsor Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said  death penalty opponents believe they have majorities on the floors of both the House and the Senate, as well as enough votes to get a repeal bill out of the House Judiciary Committee. However, she conceded that abolition advocates don't have the six votes they need to dislodge the bill from the 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Like just about any advocate in that position, Henderson argued that the bill she favors deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor, but that's not the way things work in Annapolis. She said opponents are hopeful they can persuade Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, to alter his stance. Henderson also mentioned the rare procedure of bringing the bill to the floor through a petition, but such a move would be a longshot to succeed.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign such legislation, but he did not include it in his legislative package this year.






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