It's Time for Us to Speak Up on Capital Punishment

Article excerpt

Byline: Adrienne T. Washington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Like former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. took a bold step yesterday in calling for elimination of the death penalty in the Free State.

Citing the "fallibility" of the capital punishment system in Maryland, Mr. Curran urged the General Assembly to enact a bill - to be introduced today by Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, Montgomery County Democrat - that would outlaw the debatable and discriminatory practice.

Maryland is "at a critical juncture in the fractured history of the death penalty," Mr. Curran said, because seven death-row inmates face execution this year alone. The risk of killing one innocent person is "unworthy of us," and "fails to pass for justice in a civilized society."

Not all would agree, especially surviving family members of the victims of the heinous crimes. Still, Mr. Curran's proposal raises the heat on the issue of capital punishment.

With high-profile executions pending in each local jurisdiction, capital punishment throughout the region should be reviewed, revisited and possibly revamped.

Angela J. Davis, a former public defender in the District, teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure and a seminar on "Race, Crime and Politics" at American University's Washington College of Law. "It is shameful that some prosecutors in our local jurisdictions seem to be forging ahead with the death penalty despite overwhelming and alarming evidence of the many serious problems with its implementation," Ms. Davis said. "These problems should cause any society concerned about justice to join the rest of the civilized world and immediately stop a practice which has proven to be fatally flawed and, unfortunately, final."

In Maryland, a new Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and his lieutenant, Michael S. Steele, are at odds about reinstituting capital punishment after a two-year moratorium, even as a state judge clears the way for a March execution. It would be the first since the state-sponsored study at the University of Maryland demonstrated discrimination in capital punishment cases.

In the District, a federal jury next week will begin the punishment phase after the nine-month trial of a group that called itself Murder Inc. Leaders Kevin Gray, 31, and Rodney Moore, 37, could become the first defendants put to death in nearly half a century in the nation's capital.

Here the issues speak to home rule, or the lack of local autonomy. The majority of local residents are against capital punishment but have no sway over federal prosecutors, who oversee all criminal cases. As D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton once noted in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, D.C. residents voted against the death penalty by a 2-1 margin in a 1992 referendum forced by Congress. Again under congressional pressure tied to the city's appropriation bills, the D.C. Council rejected the measure in 1997. …