Maryland Legislature Passes Death Penalty Abolition!

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Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment, and the 6th state in 6 years to join the abolition club.

This culminates a decades-long campaign, stretching back to the 1980s, in which Amnesty International – in coalition with other groups – has always played an integral part. For me personally, it caps 6 years of thoroughly meaningful and rewarding work with a terrific collection of Amnesty staff and activists and coalition partners.

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Kirk Bloodsworth and the Demise of the Death Penalty

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Kirk Bloodsworth

Kirk Bloodsworth is the first American sentenced to death row who was exonerated by DNA fingerprinting. (Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GettyImages)

The New York Times today profiles Kirk Bloodsworth, a man who once faced execution for what he describes as “the most brutal murder in Maryland history.” He was innocent, and thanks to the development of DNA testing, was proven so and freed. Equally as important, the real killer was identified.

Kirk Bloodsworth was lucky. Many inmates sentenced to die in this country do not have scientific evidence like DNA with which to prove their innocence.  Only 18 of the 142 death row exonorees over the last 40 years have been set free due to DNA evidence.  During that time, many others have been executed despite doubts about their guilt, but without testable DNA evidence that could prove their innocence to the high standard our courts require.

As long as the death penalty exists, the risk of executing the innocent will be all too real. So Kirk Bloodsworth has made it his mission to abolish the death penalty, both in his home state and – as advocacy director for Witness to Innocence – throughout the country.

Success in Maryland seems closer than ever. And across the country, as people become more familiar with harrowing stories like Kirk’s, support for and use of the death penalty continues to decline.