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House committee approves death penalty repeal bill

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to end the death penalty moved one step closer to becoming law Friday when a House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee passed the measure in a 14-8 vote.

The bill, already passed by the Senate, now moves to the House floor, where it is also expected to pass.

Lawmakers backing the bill rejected several amendments that would have maintained the death penalty in some cases, including acts of terrorism, for mass murderers and for kidnappers who kill.

“We cannot have a partial repeal of the death penalty,” said Del. Samuel I. ‘Sandy’ Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who voted in favor of the legislation.

Supporters of the repeal insisted that capital punishment is costly, prone to error, racially biased and a poor deterrent of crime.

Those in favor of capital punishment argued that the death penalty was a deterrent of crime and a necessary option for punishing criminals who commit heinous acts of violence.

“We need to have the death penalty to protect all of our citizens from the worst of the worst,” said Del. Susan K. McComas, a Harford County Republican. “I think we all have to ask ourselves: ‘Are we going to feel safer if we repeal the death penalty?’”

The vote by the Judiciary Committee was mostly split down party lines with one Democrat, Del. Kevin Kelly of Allegany County, joining seven Republicans on a “no” vote.

Maryland has five men on death row. The state’s last execution took place in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Maryland’s death penalty has been on hold since a 2006 court ruling that the state’s lethal injection protocols weren’t properly approved by a legislative committee.

If passed, Maryland would become the 18th state to ban the death penalty. Connecticut did last year. Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York also have abolished it in recent years.

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