The flurry of legislative activity that led to the General Assembly’s vote this year to repeal the death penalty in Maryland included the most memorable quote of the 2013 session — if only because of the speaker.
For the prior four years, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin was widely regarded as one of the two legislators who saved capital punishment in Maryland. With the Senate poised to vote for abolition in 2009, Zirkin – with Sen. James Brochin – crafted legislation that preserved the death penalty but limited its application only when DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime conclusively linked the defendant to the capital murder.
Before the story of Ronald Post veers into “odd news” territory, here are the sobering facts: Post was convicted in 1985 of murdering a hotel desk clerk two years earlier and sentenced to death. He is scheduled to die in January.
But his lawyers have argued that the 6-foot-3-inch, 480-lb. Post should not be executed because he is “morbidly obese.” They argued in a federal court filing late last week that Post’s weight and poor veins “have a substantial likelihood of causing severe complications with attempts at an intravenous execution,” meaning his death could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Post’s lawyers say their client wants to lose weight and has even been denied gastric bypass surgery by prison officials. Post’s attempts to keep weight off have been thwarted by back and knee problems, the lawyers said, and he had been using an exercise bike “until it broke under his weight.”
After four full days of deliberation, the jury in the death penalty case against Lee E. Stephens remains undecided about whether he and another man killed a corrections officer in the former Maryland House of Correction.
Cpl. David McGuinn was stabbed to death while on duty during an ambush style attack from behind as he was taking the final lockup count for the night at 10 p.m. on July 25, 2006. Stephens was charged with first-degree murder in McGuinn’s death.
The case went to the jury last Wednesday. While court was not in session Friday, the jurors in the case have been deliberating since. On Tuesday, jurors again did not deliver a verdict and were sent home about 4 p.m.
The case against Stephens is based on eyewitness testimony from former inmates on the cell block where the attack occurred and DNA testing of blood recovered from Stephens’ personal effects. The jury has the option to find Stephens guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Hackner told the jury when they were given the case that the verdict form also included an option to find Stephens guilty of second-degree murder. A first-degree conviction would open the door to further hearings about whether to impose capital punishment.
The jury has had a tough job put in front of them. There are reasonable issues raised on both sides and, with no video footage, a lot of the state’s case came down to a prisoner who said he saw everything through a mirror he held out of his cell door.
Happy Columbus Day. If you’re at work, like those of us at The Daily Record, here are some law links to check out. If you’re off today, get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather.
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