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Senate keeps death penalty repeal bill intact

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’ Malley’s efforts to repeal the death penalty were buoyed Friday when senators in favor of repeal rebuffed an amendment that would allow execution in certain cases.

In a 27-19 vote, senators rejected a clause to permit the death sentence in cases where a person has been found guilty of heinous crime.

State Sen. Richard Colburn, who introduced the measure, recounted the gruesome details of the 2009 kidnapping of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell, who was sexually assaulted and killed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“Think about what happened to this poor, innocent girl,” the Eastern Shore Republican said.

Baltimore City Democrat Sen. Lisa Gladden, who supports the repeal, countered by saying, “What I want for these types of offenders, I want them to sit every day and think about what happened. Then when they get tired of thinking about what happened, I want them to think about it again.”

The Senate broke for recess after a three-hour floor session, but is scheduled to take up more amendments Monday. A final vote on the bill could come as early as Tuesday.

The necessity of repeal, given Maryland’s restrictive authority to execute prisoners, monopolized the debate.

Senators who want to keep the death penalty argued that existing laws that limit capital cases to those with biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape linking the defendant to a homicide provide the necessary statute to punish criminals who commit the “worst of the worst crimes” and allow prosecutors to use the death penalty as a bargaining chip.

But State Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, used Maryland resident Kirk Bloodsworth, who sat in the gallery during the debate, as the archetype for why the death penalty should not exist.

Bloodsworth, a Maryland man, spent two years on death row for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl outside Baltimore, and was later exonerated because of DNA evidence.

“With the death penalty, there’s no going back. Death is forever,” Raskin said.

Senators approved an amendment that would give the governor the power to change the sentence of the five men currently on death row from a sentence of death to life without the possibility of parole, a provision many argued is already allowed under the state’s constitution.

An amendment to eliminate a $500,000 crime fund created to aid the families of murder victims was also approved, although O’Malley has indicated that he will create the fund through other means.

Maryland’s last execution was during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich in 2005.

The state’s death penalty has been on hold since a 2006 court ruling said the state’s lethal injection protocols weren’t properly approved by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until the protocols are approved.

Thirty-three states still have the death penalty. If approved, Maryland would be the sixth state to repeal it in recent years.