NAACP, O’Malley call for death penalty repeal

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, right, speaks at a rally in support of repealing Maryland's death penalty in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who said he will be making repeal a priority, argued at the rally that the death penalty is a waste of resources that could be better used to fight crime in more productive ways.

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday he believes the Maryland General Assembly has the will to ban capital punishment this session, voicing renewed confidence that repeal is within reach after his last effort stalled in 2009.

That year, the Senate voted instead to limit the cases in which capital punishment can be applied.  

“I believe that there is the will in the Senate, and I also believe that there is the will in the House,” the governor said Tuesday, when asked if he had the votes at a news conference.

O’Malley spoke at a news conference Tuesday with the CEO of the NAACP, lawmakers and repeal advocates who cited racial disparities in the application of the death penalty.

Benjamin Jealous, CEO of the National Association for the Ad-vancement of Colored People, said he hopes the push to repeal in Maryland will help build support to end executions in other states.

“The death penalty has failed our state. It is broken beyond repair, but it was broken from birth,” Jealous said.

It will likely be a close vote.

Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is the potential swing vote on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill has been bottled up.

Zirkin said he is keeping an open mind, but he questions why action is needed this year. He noted that compromise legislation was passed in 2009 to limit the death penalty to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession. However, he also said he questions whether the state should be in the business of putting people to death.

“I am undecided on my vote and torn on the issue,” Zirkin said Tuesday. “I’ve always been that way and continue to be that way.”

O’Malley, a Democrat, described the death penalty as an expensive and failed policy. The governor cited moral as well as practical arguments for repeal. He said the majority of executions take place in five countries: Iran, North Korea, China, Yemen and the United States, while 141 countries have abolished capital punishment. O’Malley said: “In whose company do we choose to walk forward?”

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