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Ministers call for a repeal of the death penalty

ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of Maryland religious leaders is calling lawmakers to end the practice of capital punishment in the state.

Ministers representing diverse faiths, including Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Muslims, convened in Annapolis on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to repeal the state’s death penalty law.

“The death penalty should not be legal in Maryland because capital punishment has been shown not to be a deterrent,” said Rabbi Seth Bernstein, president of the Howard County Board of Rabbis, during a news conference.

“In states where capital punishment is legal, murder rates are persistently higher than the murder rates of other states in our union where the death penalty is illegal,” Bernstein added.

The group of clergy insisted that capital punishment has been marred by racial discrimination, arguing that minority defendants are more likely than other populations to be sentenced to death.

Faith leaders also raised the issue of mistaken executions, saying that there is no guarantee that innocent people won’t be executed for crimes they did not commit.

Maryland’s last execution was under former Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2005, when Wesley Eugene Baker was put to death for the 1991 murder of a woman at a Baltimore County shopping center.

Since 1976, Maryland has executed five people. Five men remain on death row.

Several Maryland lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, have expressed optimism about repealing the death penalty this legislative session.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who opposes capital punishment, pushed for repeal in 2009 and fell short. The Democratic governor has said that he believes the General Assembly has the will to ban capital punishment this session.

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Maryland House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill to abolish Maryland’s death penalty on Feb. 14.

If the law is repealed, Maryland would become the sixth state to abolish capital punishment since 2007__ joining Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

“Nonviolence is still the most powerful weapon that we have to deter the evil of violence,” Maryland Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said. “It’s more powerful than the electric chair, more effective than a lethal injection. State-sponsored killing is not going to end the cycle of violence.”