Murder in Maryland: Murder rate skyrockets, Governor seeks to repeal death penalty ban

© Anthony J. Sacco, Sr. March 2009. Reprinted from TRIOND

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PINE BLUFFS — In Maryland, death penalty opponents are at it again! Democrat Governor Martin O'Malley's desire to repeal the death penalty statute, re-enacted in that state in 1978 but seldom used, has everything to do with placating his liberal Democrat base, and nothing to do with looking after the welfare of the citizens of his state.

Proponents of repeal argue that Maryland's death penalty law has not resulted in any reduction in the total number of murders in that state, and as such it is neither a deterrent nor an act of retribution. They overlook the fact that, in at least one case–that of the perpetrator–it is both a deterrent and an act of retribution. A murderer, carefully tried, convicted and sentenced to death in accordance with constitutionally required due process of law is, well ... deterred.

To conclude that repeal is the way to go, Mr. O'Malley ignores statistics, both national and state, that clearly demonstrate the positive effects of capital punishment on murder rates. To see this, let's start by comparing the number of murders in Texas and Virginia during 2004 - 2007 with the number of murders in Maryland during those same years. Why select these states? Because prosecutors in Texas and Virginia–populous states that had death penalty laws on the books during that time period–aggressively pursue the death penalty, while Maryland does not enforce its' statute:

Comparison of the number of Murders in Maryland with the numbers in Texas and Virginia during the period 2004-2007:

In the table above, you'll note that the number of murders in Texas exceeded the number of murders in Maryland during the sample period. Many more people reside in Texas and Virginia than in Maryland. During these sample years, Texas was our second most populous state, and Virginia hosted a population about one and one-half times larger than Maryland's. Next, to get a better understanding of what the figures are telling us, the populations of the three sample states should be compared.

Comparison of Populations of Texas and Virginia with the population of Maryland during the period 2004-2007:

Finally, to fully understand, one needs to look at the murder rates per 100,000 people in each of these states. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a liberal, anti-death penalty site, Maryland's murder rate in 2006 was 9.7 per 100,000 people. In 2007 it was 9.8 per 100,000. Comparing this with Texas and Virginia, where prosecutors frequently seek the death penalty, the contrast is stark:

Murder Rates in Maryland, Texas and Virginia per 100,000 people during the period 2004-2007:

So now you know. Even though Maryland's population was substantially less that that of Texas and Virginia during the sample years, its murder rate per 100,000 positions the state well above the other two. In fact, Maryland's murder rate was even higher than the national murder rate for those years. It ranked second only to Louisiana, which, with rates of 14.2, 12.4, 9.9, and 12.7, was clearly the unfortunate national leader in the category of murder rates per 100,000 people. Texas ranked twentieth; Virginia ranked twenty-third.

Even as Maryland and a few other states debate whether or not to stop executing criminals, Texas, for many years the national leader in executions, has picked up its pace in the first two and a half months of 2009, marking its 11th and 12th executions during the second week of March. It is on a pace to eclipse its 2008 number (18), which was a lower than average figure that year due to the freeze placed on executions nationally by the Supreme Court as it studied whether or not the lethal injection method might be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Why has Maryland not seen a reduction in either the number of murders, or its murder rate? Simply because, even though the death penalty statute has been on the books since 1978, it has not been used much–not sought or applied by prosecutors, who cite numerous reasons for not doing so, including the expense of prosecuting a murder case. What they leave unstated is that Maryland is effectively a one-party state, where Democrats control the Legislature and most city and county governments. That means that with the two notable exceptions mentioned below, the vast majority of legislators and prosecutors in Maryland are liberal Democrats, who own a philosophical bias against the death penalty. That bias long ago surfaced as a racial argument–that blacks are disproportionately executed in Maryland–even though recent statistics show that this is not accurate.

Mr. O'Malley is cut from the same cloth. Since moving into the Governor's office in Annapolis in 2006, he has frequently stated his desire to eliminate the death penalty. In 2009, he urged the Legislature to abolish the death penalty. A bill to do just that was introduced in the Maryland Senate. It seemed likely to sail through.

But perhaps there's hope for the people of Maryland. The 47-member Senate rejected Mr. O'Malley's repeal plan, and on March 4, 2009, announced a "compromise" of sorts on the death penalty repeal bill by amending the existing bill [rather than killing it–no pun intended] to further restrict capital prosecutions–perhaps at least partially recognizing the wishes of many Marylanders who support the death penalty, but nevertheless, choosing exactly the wrong way to go in a state where gangs of thugs in Baltimore, for example, terrorize its large black population with a murder almost daily. Here's why I say that.

The proposed revision to the law would preclude murder cases where the only evidence is eyewitness testimony (which liberals deem unreliable), and in turn, require DNA evidence, videotaped evidence, or a voluntary, videotaped confession. After announcing the "compromise," Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, a Democrat and death penalty supporter, said his chamber would not take up any further debate [on the issue] this session. Governor O'Malley then acknowledged that reform was the best he could hope for this year, and urged delegates to abandon repeal in favor of the Senate plan.

However, in the view of some death penalty supporters, the limitations are tantamount to actual repeal. Maryland's Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a former Montgomery County prosecutor and another death penalty supporter, was quoted as saying that the legislature's compromise "significantly limits the death penalty so as to almost nullify it in the state of Maryland."

But both Maryland's Attorney General and President of the Senate are now on record as supporting the death penalty. That bodes well for efforts to keep the statute alive.

Look for advocates of this change to continue repeal efforts. They cite the findings of a "bi-partisan commission" appointed by the Governor in March 2008 but denounced by Republicans as a "stacked deck," since proponents of Governor O'Malley's repeal position occupied twelve of the nineteen Commission seats. At the time, a Republican Delegate from Cecil County said, "The outcome [of the Commission's work] will be that the death penalty is racially biased, that it's cruel and unusual punishment, and that it's more costly to use the death penalty than life in prison." Other Republicans labeled it "a decision waiting for a process to validate it."

As predicted, Marylanders were told that the Commission "carefully studied" the states' death penalty and recommended abolishing it. But most students of the political scene understand that the appointment of a commission to "study a problem and recommend a solution" is a tactic frequently resorted to by governors, and even presidents, when they recognize a controversial issue and do not want to take responsibility for any change. That way, they cannot be blamed if a commission which they appointed returns with an unworkable solution, or one that proves unpopular with the voters.

Approximately two-thirds of the American public believes in capital punishment. I support that belief. Even though I was, for a time, a defense attorney, I feel there are some criminal defendants who have earned the ultimate punishment our society has to offer by committing a murder or murders with aggravating circumstances present. Human life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. It's my view that society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self-defense to protect its innocent and weaker members.

The astronomic number of murders in the state of Maryland each year is disturbing. It should no longer be tolerated by the citizens of "the line state." However, as long as the voters continue to elect Democrats to public office, there will be no "change we can believe in," and more innocent people will die at the hands of merciless killers.

Anthony J. Sacco, a writer, licensed private investigator, author of two novels; The China Connection, and Little Sister Lost, and a biography, Echoes in the Wind, holds degrees from Loyola College of Maryland and the University of Maryland Law School. His articles have appeared in the Washington Times, Baltimore Sun, Voices for the Unborn, the Catholic Review, WREN Magazine and the Wyoming Catholic Register. E-mail him at and visit his blog at His work is also available at Triond, an Internet Magazine.