Connecticut Committee Endorses Abolition

Yesterday Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee voted in favor of repealing the death penalty.  It will now be up to the full House and Senate to vote up or down on whether Connecticut will finally get rid of capital punishment.

Last year, a similar bill was stymied by the fact that a high profile death penalty trial was ongoing. In 2009, a repeal bill passed both houses but was vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell.  The current Governor has said he supports repeal, and 179 murder victim family members signed a letter in support of ending Connecticut’s use of the death penalty.

Meanwhile in Maryland, repeal bills with 66 House and 19 Senate cosponsors, and with a majority ready to vote for them, remain stuck in committees.  No state is more ripe for repeal than Maryland, where there hasn’t been a jury-issued death sentence in 10 years, and where a 2008 study commission set up by the legislature found that capital punishment is “more detrimental” to victims’ families than the alternatives.

If you live in Connecticut or Maryland, you can take action now to help push repeal across the finish line.

Maryland: Will Death Penalty Repeal Follow Marriage Equality?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks ©AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, marriage equality became the law in Maryland with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature.  Death penalty repeal is another issue the Governor says he feels strongly about, and he should push for the chance to sign that into law too.

In 2009, Maryland legislators tried to create the perfect death penalty law, one that would not risk executing the innocent.  Of course, human beings are still running Maryland’s capital punishment system. Mistakes will be made, and that awful risk remains. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Death Penalty Abolition: Five States That Could Be Next

witness viewing room death penalty

Witness viewing room © Scott Langley

Three states have abolished the death penalty legislatively in recent years: New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.  Inevitably, more states will follow; but can a state or states abolish the death penalty in an even-numbered (read: election) year?  We will find out in 2012.

As Politico reported on Friday, states that are poised to end their experiment with capital punishment next year include Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as California (through a ballot initiative).  This is quite a diverse collection of states, ranging from small to large and from conservative to liberal, which goes to show how mainstream an issue death penalty abolition has become.

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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.

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Montana Senate Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

By a 26-24 vote, the Montana Senate yesterday voted to repeal the death penalty.   Twenty-two Democrats and 4 Republicans voted for the measure (SB 185), which now goes to the House.   This is the second straight legislative session in which the Montana Senate has endorsed repeal. 

This year, an abolition bill has already passed in Illinois, where it awaits action from the Governor.  And other repeal bills have been filed in states across the country, from Maryland to Connecticut to Kansas to Washington.

Abolition has become more appealing to state legislators in recent years as they have become more aware of capital punishment’s exorbitant financial cost, the dangers of executing the innocent, and the grueling toll the death penalty process takes on victim families.

Maryland Lethal Injection Regs for Public Comment

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services recently proposed new regulations for lethal injection procedures.  Executions in Maryland have been at a halt since 2005, when a court of appeals ruling found that the execution protocols were illegally adopted.  If the regulations are adopted, they will move the state closer to resuming use of the death penalty.   These regulations have now been published in the Maryland Register, and they are open for comment for the next 30 days.

According to the regulations:

“Comments may be sent to Randy Watson, Assistant Commissioner, Division of Correction, 6776 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore, MD 21215-2342, or call 410-585-3300. Comments will be accepted through August 31, 2009. A public hearing has not been scheduled.”

These new regulations do not appear to address any of the major problems inherent in the use of lethal injection. Among many other things, the regulations propose that:

  • Executions would continue using a drug – pancuronium bromide – that is not even permitted for use in euthanizing animals. Medical officials have consistently warned that the combination of drugs proposed here may cause the prisoner a very painful death, and indeed several such botched executions using these drugs have occurred.  
  • A certified paramedic must be on duty in some capacity during the execution, either as a part of the execution or standing right outside of the area where the execution takes place.  A licensed physician would also have to be present.  These proposals could result in violations of AMA ethical guidelines

There are currently five men on death row in Maryland. While these regulations would not mean that executions would immediately start happening, it does mean that de facto moratorium on executions would end.

Resuming executions would be a huge step backwards for the state of Maryland. Despite a long fight in recent years, the death penalty still has not been outlawed in the state, though it has been restricted. But the current moratorium on executions, coupled with the historically infrequent use of the practice in the state, gives hope that Maryland is not far from joining the other fifteen states (plus D.C.) that have outlawed capital punishment.

Death Penalty Abolition in Maryland: UPDATE 2

The Maryland Senate this morning voted for a “compromise” on the bill formerly known as the repeal bill.  In this compromise legislation, the death penalty would be restricted to cases where there is either biological or DNA evidence or some type of video evidence (either a video-taped confession or video of the crime itself).  Death sentences could not be obtained solely on the basis of eye-witness testimony.  Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Frosh, who supports repeal, endorsed this legislation, saying that it would “move the ball forward in the right direction.” 

These restrictions, of course, don’t apply retroactively, and Maryland may one day end up executing one or more of the five men currently on Maryland’s death row. 

The compromise bill also doesn’t address the costs of the death penalty, and it certainly doesn’t address the conclusion of the Commission on Capital Punishment report that the death penalty process is more harmful for victims’ families than alternatives.  The Commission reached this conclusion by a near-unanimous 20-1 vote

So, Maryland’s death penalty will remain on the books, and Marylanders will continue paying for it financially, and victims’ families will continue to have to endure a process that all sides have agreed is more painful.

Death Penalty abolition in Maryland: UPDATE

This afternoon, the Maryland death penalty repeal bill was amended on the Senate floor, by a 25-22 vote, so that the death penalty would still be available, except in cases that rely exclusively on witness testimony (as in Troy Davis’ case).  A second amendment to restrict the death penalty to cases with DNA evidence or taped confessions also passed.  Thus, the death penalty abolition bill became a death penalty restriction bill.

Then, confusion began to take over.  Amendments to the original bill continued to be proposed, even though they did not seem to fit with the new version.  An amendment which would have further restricted the death penalty to killings in prison was submitted, then pulled.  Some seemed unaware that the first amendment had already taken repeal off the table.  A move to send the bill back to its committee and let them sort it out failed.  Ultimately, the Senate adjourned and will reconvene at 9 am tomorrow, when more amendments will likely be submitted.

Death Penalty abolition in Maryland is moving forward

By procedural votes of 25-22 and then 24-23, the Maryland Senate brought the death penalty repeal bill to the floor where, sometime this afternoon or evening, it will be debated and amendments will be offered.  After this morning’s voting it was decided that they would “play it by ear,” so there is no formal time for the debate to resume.  Audio of Senate proceedings is available online.

Death Penalty Abolition in the States: It Begins

Today, the first important committee hearings on state abolition bills will be held: one in New Mexico (HB285) and one in Nebraska (LB306).  Nebraska legislators will also be considering a bill to introduce lethal injection as the method of execution (LB36), since Nebraska’s sole method of state killing, the electric chair, was declared unconstitutional last year. 

Meanwhile, the Maryland bill repealing capital punishment has also been introduced in the Senate (SB279), and there appear to be serious discussions on how to break the logjam that has held this bill up in committee in the past, with even some death penalty supporters saying that it is important that this issue get a hearing in front of the full Senate.

Stay tuned …