Race, Politics and Maryland’s Lingering Death Penalty

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor O’Malley Joins Pastors’ March on Annapolis to repeal the death penalty in Maryland in 2009.

While a New York Times editorial highlights the fact that states are “retreating” from capital punishment due to “evolving standards of decency,” very little evolution is evident in Maryland’s political circles, where a stacked Senate committee has for years been the one and only stumbling block to death penalty repeal.

As Gerald Stansbury of the NAACP writes in the Baltimore Sun, 75% of murder victims in Maryland are African American, and almost 50% of murders go unsolved each year. Yet the capital punishment system diverts a massive amount of resources to cases in which the victims were white – all 5 Maryland inmates executed and all 5 current residents of Maryland’s death row were convicted of killing white victims.

There is only one African American on Maryland’s 11 member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (despite the state’s 31% overall African American population). As Stansbury puts it: “right now, the Judicial Proceedings Committee has jurisdiction over all criminal justice issues but fails to adequately represent those who are affected by these issues the most — people of color.”


Politics + Executions = Comedy Gold!

In emails that have come out during the appeal of New Hampshire’s one and only death sentence, we have learned that former New Hampshire Attorney General (and current U.S. Senator-elect) Kelly A Ayotte began plans to run for election just days after announcing she was seeking the death penalty in the case.  As the New Hampshire Union Leader reports (in a special “print-only” article):

In one e-mail exchange between Ayotte and Robert Varsalone, her friend and future political advisor, under the subject “Get ready to run….,” Varsalone discussed Republican campaign chances and possible candidates.

“Have you been following the last 2 week.  A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty,” Ayotte responded to Varsalone in the Oct 27, 2006 e-mail.

“I know, I read about it.  Where does AG Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH,” Varsalone wrote back.

Funny stuff.

Speaking of politics, as California officials were trying in October to engineer a pre-election execution (an effort that failed and cost the state’s taxpayers $4 million) it turns out they were madly searching the globe for sodium thiopental, since their supply of the execution drug had expired.  From Pakistan to the U.K. they looked, but, as Stephen Colbert (who is a real comedian) explains below, they eventually found what they were looking for in neighboring Arizona, leading one California official to quip, “You guys are life-savers.”

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tiny Triumphs – Lethal Drug Shortage
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

Most Voters Prefer Alternatives to the Death Penalty

new poll demonstrates that U.S. voters don’t consider the capital punishment a wise use of their tax dollars.  It also finds that most U.S. voters don’t consider the death penalty the most appropriate punishment for murder

1,500 registered voters were surveyed for this comprehensive study of public attitudes towards the death penalty, released today by the Death Penalty Information Center.  In the poll, 61% of the voters preferred alternatives to the death penalty as the more appropriate punishments for murder.  (39% favored life without parole plus restitution for the victim’s family, 13% just life without parole, and 9% life with the possibility of parole.)

When asked about their personal budget priorities, the list was long, and the death penalty was at the bottom of it.  More pressing priorities included: emergency services, creating jobs, police and crime prevention, schools and libraries, public health care services, and roads and transportation.

Polls which only ask whether the public is for or against the death penalty usually find a majority in support of capital punishment; but it is clear that when real world alternatives are included – alternative punishments and alternative uses of government resources – that support collapses.

The poll also reveals that most voters (62%) either don’t care how their representatives vote on the death penalty, or would likely support a legislator who voted to end capital punishment in their state. So legislators now considering death penalty abolition in Illinois, and those elected officials in several other states who will be in the same boat in 2011, can take heart and safely vote to end executions.