ANNAPOLIS – A delegate whose grandson was shot to death in Baltimore last Labor Day urged senators Thursday to pass legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences on repeat gun offenders, a position at odds with the legislator’s more liberal views before the killing.
“I am thinking a little differently this year because (my grandson’s death) knocked on my door,” Del. Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “You look at a picture differently when you’re in the frame.”
Branch was testifying in favor of House Bill 1029, of which he is the chief sponsor and which the House of Delegates passed by a 130-5 vote last week. Raekwon Thornton, who has a previous gun-related conviction, stands accused in the slaying of Branch’s 22-year-old grandson, Tyrone Ray.
Branch told the Senate committee he had been opposed to mandatory minimum sentences, saying they removed the judges’ discretion to consider the defendant as an individual. Now, he said, he believes that discretion should be lifted for repeat gun offenders.
“Maybe you made a mistake the first time, but the second time that is not a mistake,” said Branch, the House Democratic whip. “I cannot protect you anymore. I am done protecting.”
Branch’s argument drew support from committee members Sens. Michael J. Hough and Jim Brochin.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the city,” said Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, referring to the more than 400 slayings in Baltimore since Jan. 1, 2017. “They’ve had their second chance.”
Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said mandatory minimum sentences would eliminate the inconsistency in gun sentences between Baltimore city and the county, where the punishments are generally stiffer.
But Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said too often youngsters become naïve participants in someone else’s gun crime and should be mentored rather than imprisoned.
“I am looking for front-end ways to not overly incarcerate,” Kelley said in support of judicial discretion.
Sen. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, said he, too, remains opposed to mandatory minimum sentences due to the lack of judicial discretion.
Branch recalled he had agreed with Smith not so long ago.
“Last year at this time I was the same way,” he told the committee. “Once it (my grandson’s death) knocked at my door, I had to deal with it and now I think differently.”