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July 10, 2008

Stacking the deck against the death penalty

Governor O'Malley has firm views on what's wrong with the death penalty, but he apparently lacks the guts (and the votes) to push for its abolition.

So instead, he's set up a commission to "study" it, and has stacked the deck with a chairman who's on record against it. Another day in Maryland politics.

Benjamin Civiletti, a prominent Baltimore lawyer and former U.S. attorney general who once called for a national moratorium on capital punishment, will head a state commission studying the death penalty in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced Thursday.

The commission begins its deliberations as O'Malley, a staunch death-penalty opponent, has moved toward ending Maryland's de facto moratorium on executions by ordering the drafting of procedures for the use of lethal injection. O'Malley, a Democrat, made that decision on the advice of legal counsel after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection protocols that are virtually identical to Maryland's.

Established this year by the General Assembly, the commission is charged with examining a number of issues including disparities in the application of the death penalty, the cost differential between litigating prolonged capital punishment cases and life imprisonment, and the impact of DNA evidence.

O'Malley appointed 13 of the 23 commission members, and death penalty proponents had raised concerns that the governor would stack the panel with like-minded opponents. Civiletti, who was attorney general during the Carter administration and now focuses on commercial litigation and white-collar crime, said he hasn't represented anyone charged with a capital offense. He declined to share his personal opinion on the subject Thursday.
Oh, sure, there are members who support the death penalty, like the Baltimore County state's attorney, but we all know where this is headed. Why go through this elaborate ruse of impartial inquiry?