Maryland Death Penalty Meets Globalization

As Maryland officials attempt to develop a lethal injection protocol that is acceptable to the courts, they have run into an unexpected roadblock – Globalization.   Pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs used in executions are for the most part multi-national entities, either headquartered in Europe or with large business interests in that region. Capital punishment has been banished in Europe.  Extraditing suspects who might face the death penalty is forbidden, and exporting materials that might be used for executions has now come under intense scrutiny.

Sodium thiopental, the anesthetic Maryland (and all other executing states) had been using as the first drug in its three-drug protocol, was produced by Hospira, at a factory in Italy.  Now, because of controversy over its use in executions, Hospira will no longer make the drug at all.  A generic version of sodium thiopental is manufactured by a subsidiary of Swiss-based Novartis, but that company has announced it will take all steps necessary to prevent its export to the US.  An alternative to sodium thiopental, pentobarbital, which has been used in Oklahoma and may soon be used in Ohio, is made by a company called Lundbeck, based in Denmark.  That company has already gone on record objecting to the use of their drug in executions, and it may only be a matter of time before Lundbeck takes steps to ensure that their drug doesn’t wind up in US execution chambers.


Maryland Commission Calls for Abolition

Today, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment made it official, formally recommending in its Final Report that Maryland repeal the death penalty.

The report’s final recommendation concludes:

“For all of these reasons—to eliminate racial and jurisdictional bias, to reduce unnecessary costs, to lessen the misery that capital cases force victims of family members to endure, to eliminate the risk that an innocent person can be convicted—the Commission strongly recommends that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland.”

The Maryland General Assembly (which created the Commission) will take up the issue when its 2009 session begins about a month from now, on January 14.  The session ends in April, so we should know fairly soon whether Maryland will become the 15th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

Is it worth the risk, Maryland?

When testifying before state lawmakers in 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley asked “Can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life?” 

According to Michael May, a former military and Baltimore City police officer, the answer is no.  In an op-ed in today’s Baltimore Examiner, May writes that he originally supported the death penalty, certain that all opponents of capital punishment were just “muddleheaded, knee-jerk liberals.”  But it was the risk of executing an innocent person that changed his mind, and he now advocates for repeal of the death penalty in Maryland.   

We know that 130 people have been exonerated from death rows across the country after evidence of their wrongful conviction emerged.  And we know that the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence, Kirk Bloodsworth, was sentenced to die in Maryland.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recently voted to recommend repeal of the death penalty, and it is time for the legislature to follow their lead – but in order to do so they need to hear from their constituents!  Find out how you can get involved and help repeal Maryland’s death penalty today!