Maryland began executions in colonial times, specifically since 1638. 309 people were killed prior to the 1972 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down several states’ death penalty laws as unconstitutional. The first execution in the new state of Maryland was in 1773. The death penalty was re-evaluated in the early 1800’s, when the state established degrees of murder, allowing the death penalty only for individuals convicted of first degree murder. Capital punishment was carried out by public hanging until 1913, when hangings were moved to a private space. About 50 years later, the gas chamber was briefly used as the primary method of execution. In 1994, lethal injection became the primary method of execution, and was used the same year, the first execution in Maryland since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.
Of the 34 states that conducted executions since 1976, Maryland is among the states with a total of five or less executions during that time. In 2002, Gov. Parris Glendening halted executions by an executive order so that a study of the death penalty could be conducted – a study which showed racial and socioeconomic disparities in its application in Maryland. However, Glendening’s successor, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, ended the moratorium and resumed executions in 2004.
In 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, established by the state assembly, recommended that the state repeal capital punishment due to the real possibility of the execution of innocent persons, and due to racial disparities. One year later, after nearly passing abolishing legislation, the Maryland General Assembly passed and Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the tightest death penalty restrictions in the country, limiting capital cases to those with biological or DNA evidence of guilt, a videotaped confession, or a videotape linking the defendant to a homicide.
After being turned aside several times in the legislative process, in March 2013 a bill abolishing the death penalty passed the Maryland legislature by a significant margin and will be signed into law by Gov. O’Malley in May 2013.
There are currently five men remaining on death row and, with the passage of the above bill, the Governor has the option of commuting their death sentences.
CMN State Spotlight – February 2013
“Maryland stands ready to become the sixth state in six years to repeal the death penalty. As Maryland’s General Assembly convened in January, the Catholic Church in Maryland continues to stand for the vulnerable members of our society and to advocate for the human dignity of all.”
CMN State Spotlight – September 2011
“2012 is shaping up as the year of opportunity for all to come together to press for passage of full repeal of the death penalty in Maryland. Catholics and other faith communities are gearing up for a robust season of advocacy.”
CMN State Spotlight – March 2011
“Following a unanimous vote for repeal by the 2008 MD death penalty Commission, lawmakers in the 2009 legislative session voted in the narrowest death statute in the country, allowing capital cases only when there is biological/DNA evidence, video confession or video of the crime.”