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VIDEO: Should Maryland Abolish the Death Penalty?

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and anti-death penalty advocate Kirk Bloodsworth share their opinions about efforts in Annapolis to repeal the state's capital punishment law.

Proposed legislation to repeal Maryland's death penalty is scheduled to be heard by state lawmakers in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday afternoon in Annapolis. 

Before the hearing, supporters of repeal are set to hold an 11:30 a.m. press conference in the House Office Building with NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and relatives of murder victims. The two bills pending in the Senate and House have 85 co-sponsors between them.

Repeal advocates are expected to argue that years of death penalty appeals torment families of murder victims who otherwise would never hear from a defendant sentenced to life in prison.  

Patch caught up with Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger—who supports the death penalty—and Kirk Bloodsworth, the state's leading anti-death penalty advocate, to help frame the debate. (See video.)

Tell us your opinion in comments below.

Both Shellenberger and Bloodsworth offer passionate reasons for their opinions on the death penalty.

Shellenberger said there needs to be an "ultimate punishment" for those who commit certain heinous acts, including the killing of a police officer or the murder of a correctional officer by a prisoner.

"What do you tell the family of a correctional officer when a defendant is already serving life for murder and then they killed your loved one?" Shellenberger said. "There has to be an ultimate penalty."

Bloodsworth served eight years, 10 months and 19 days in prison, including two years on death row, for the 1984 murder of a 9-year-old girl in Rosedale. DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime and Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993.

"Honestly, after what happened to me, no one can say it can’t happen again..." Bloodsworth said. "We need to get rid of it."

Currently, Maryland has five defendants sitting on death row, including three who have avoided being executed since 1983.

The state has executed five men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the last being Wesley Baker in 2005 for the 1991 murder of grandmother Jane Tyson. She was shot and killed during an armed robbery in a Catonsville parking lot in front of her 6-year-old granddaughter and 4-year-old grandson.

Since Baker's execution, Maryland has established some of the most stringent policies in the country for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Shellenberger said since 2009 capital cases in the state are limited to those with "biological or DNA evidence proving guilt, a videotaped confession or a videotape that can link the defendant to a homicide."

Those restrictions, Shellenberger said, practically eliminates the chances of someone being wrongly convicted of capital murder and offer enough safeguards to ensure those improperly imprisoned—like Bloodsworth—are freed.

Baltimore County has only sought the death penalty twice since the new restrictions were put in place, Shellenberger said. Both cases involved defendants in the 2010 murder of Hess gas station owner William "Ray" Porter.

Walter Bishop   after shooting Porter twice at the East Joppa Road station in Towson after he told police he was promised $9,000 from Porter's wife, Karla.

Shellenberger said he will seek the death penalty against Karla Porter, who is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

"I believe that Maryland right now has the most restrictive death penalty statute in the country," Shellenberger said. "[The legislature has] added conditions to our death penalty statute that basically said you can not rely solely on eyewitness testimony, that if you want to go forward with a death penalty case you would also need DNA linking the defendant to the crime, or a video taped confession or an actual video of the murder taking place itself."

Bloodsworth counters that the justice system is far from perfect. He stated that 140 death row inmates have been wrongly convicted in the United States and 280 people have been cleared of crimes through DNA, including 17 on death row.

Bloodsworth also cited the work of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment which recommended in 2008 that the state should repeal the death penalty for fear of executing an innocent person along with concerns over racial and geographic disparities.

Bloodsworth added that that requiring someone to spend the rest of their life in prison is a far worse punishment than having that person executed.

"The crime that I was accused of, and ultimately went to death row for and was later exonerated, the real perpetrator after the fact was never given the death penalty," Bloodsworth said. "I think that it's a better punishment for people because they have to sit in this place for the rest of their lives knowing what they did."

The question is: Where do you stand on repealing Maryland's death penalty? Share your answers in the comments section below.

Cheryl May 09, 2013 at 05:05 AM
Actually she probably wouldn't even want to kill him. She was so lovable to all walks of life. I want to be able to Video it and play it for her son when he becomes 18 so he can watch it right after he views the video confession of his mother's brutal heinous senseless beating, drowning and burning and the murder attempts of two of her friends by poisoning and stabbing them. If he so chooses to ever watch them. I still have not viewed the confession. I have seen some of the crime scene photos and felt her burnt body under a satin sheet in her casket. Her breasts were burnt off. Her fingers were burnt off her hands. We could not see her beautiful face. He had broken her nose and knocked her front teeth out. He stepped on her head to hold it under the bathtub water. Her son already has to live without his father who was beaten so bad he is paralyzed from the neck down. This happened when he was jumped by several men 2 months after his mother was murdered. And those men were former prisoners. Read my other posts if you want more details on this horrific crime. I hope I live to see the day that Jeffery E. Cordell dies. What's wrong with that? I'm glad I got to see the day my father died he didn't murder anyone that I know of but he molested me. http://www.cecildaily.com/news/local_news/article_e7cfa8dc-980a-11e2-b532-001a4bcf887a.html or just go to the site and read all the articles written on this monster. There are more articles you have to go to Cecil whig and search for them.
Buck Harmon May 09, 2013 at 12:36 PM
The corporate prison for profit system makes more money by keeping them alive and being payed for the services described by Lorna. The illusion presented to the public as "life" or "death" keeps the focus away from the reality here, as with many of the functions of government...end result of a dumbed down public...it's no longer about truth and justice..
1ke May 09, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Agreed. Write that in your book. Mass incarceration is also about social control in post-industrial capitalist society. If you do not agree to this, the corollary of your above proposition, I lose respect for your intellectual integrity, no big deal for either of us.
Buck Harmon May 09, 2013 at 02:10 PM
"Mass incarceration is also about social control in post-industrial capitalist society." Agreed..
1ke May 09, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Twice in one day. Read "Washington Rules" http://www.amazon.com/Washington-Rules-Americas-Permanent-American/dp/B0055X4CS8

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