Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Maryland Governor O’Malley Commutes Death Sentences Emptying Death Row
New York Times
DEC. 31, 2014

Nearly 20 months after Maryland abolished capital punishment, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday that he would empty the state’s death row by commuting the sentences of four inmates who were awaiting execution.

“In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who will leave office in January and may seek the presidency in 2016, said in a statement. “Gubernatorial inaction at this point in the legal process would, in my judgment, needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns, and without any hope of finality or closure.”

Under Mr. O’Malley’s order, four men who had been sentenced to death — Heath Burch, Vernon Evans Jr., Anthony Grandison and Jody Lee Miles — will instead be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.

Scott D. Shellenberger, the Baltimore County state’s attorney, criticized Mr. O’Malley’s decision, which he described as “not unexpected.”

“I’m very disappointed in the decision,” said Mr. Shellenberger, whose county prosecuted Mr. Evans and Mr. Grandison for the 1983 murders of two people at a motel. “These sentences were lawful and remain lawful. They were imposed by a jury. Numerous judges have affirmed these convictions, and it’s interesting that in the last 21 days of the administration, that suddenly he has decided to show mercy on individuals who showed absolutely no mercy to the victims of their crimes.”

Mr. O’Malley’s decision capped years of debate in Maryland about capital punishment, and it came after the state attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler, said in November that Mr. Miles’s pending death sentence was “unenforceable” because the Maryland Division of Corrections lacked the authority to issue a protocol for lethal injections.

Maryland last executed an inmate in 2005, about a year before the State Court of Appeals, ruling in Mr. Evans’s case, struck down Maryland’s lethal injection.

The legislature voted in March 2013 to repeal the death penalty, and Mr. O’Malley signed the measure into law less than two months later. The law did not alter existing death sentences.

Mr. O’Malley said that recent history had weighed on him as he considered his options under state law and consulted with family members of victims.

“They have borne their grief bravely along with the additional torment of an unending legal process,” Mr. O’Malley said. “If endless death penalty appeals were to continue, these family members would, no doubt, persevere through that process with continued courage and fortitude. Of this I have no doubt. The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially unexecutable sentences to stand.”

In Wicomico County, the state’s attorney, Matthew A. Maciarello, said the mother and other survivors of Edward J. Atkinson, whom Mr. Miles murdered in 1997, preferred that Mr. Miles be executed, but had accepted Maryland’s “legal and political realities” and supported the commutation decision.

“Jody Lee Miles was never going to be put to death under the political and legal status quo,” Mr. Maciarello said. “It gives her and her family a greater degree of closure than they otherwise would have had.”

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