O,malley Pardons Killers






GOv. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday that he would erase the last vestiges of Maryland’s death row by commuting the sentences of the state’s remaining condemned murderers to life without parole.

Acting on the last day of the year and with three weeks remaining in his term, O’Malley said he will spare the lives of four men left in limbo after Maryland abolished the death penalty for future offenders in 2013.

The four are Vernon Evans, Anthony Grandison, Jody Lee Miles and Heath William Burch.

Evans and Grandison were convicted in a 1983 contract slaying at a Baltimore County motel. Miles was found guilty of the 1997 murder of a man during a robbery in Salisbury. Burch was sentenced to die in 1996 for killing an elderly couple when he broke into their home in Capitol Heights.

In a statement, O’Malley said he had spoken recently to the survivors of some of the victims of the four men’s crimes. He expressed gratitude toward the family members for sharing their thoughts and said he had concluded that failing to act would “needlessly and callously” subject then to an “endless” appeals process.

“The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand,” O’Malley said. “In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.”

Spokesman Ron Boehmer said the governor’s office would publish on Friday a notice of his intention to commute the sentences, as is required by the state Constitution. The actual commutation will come at a later date, Boehmer said.

Before the commutation decision, the inmates were in no immediate danger of execution because Maryland has been under a de facto death penalty moratorium since the Court of Appeals voided the state’s rules for imposing the death penalty in 2006.

O’Malley led the effort to repeal the state’s death penalty in 2013, but the legislation approved by the General Assembly did not address the fate of inmates already under death sentences except to give the power to commute death sentences to life without parole.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and attorneys for Miles argued before the Court of Special Appeals that Miles’ sentence should be changed.

Even though the repeal law wasn’t meant to be retroactive, Gansler argued that the state no longer had the authority to execute anyone.

With the death penalty abolished, the state has no way to write new regulations to carry out the executions of Miles and the other death-row inmates, Gansler argued.

Miles’ attorneys had hoped the appeals court would order a new sentencing proceeding at a lower court. They wanted a lower court to decide between life in prison — with or without the possibility of parole.

“He’s the best of the best of the inmates,” attorney Robert W. Biddle told the appeals court. “Is that someone who should get life without parole?”

Biddle said that Miles, 45, was abused as a child and became a model prisoner while incarcerated. Miles was convicted of the 1997 robbery and murder of musical theater director Edward Joseph Atkinson.

Gary Proctor, a lawyer for Burch, thanked O’Malley for what the attorney called “a tough and courageous moral decision.”

“Given that repeal of the death penalty has already occurred in the legislature, it was indeed time that Maryland’s machinery of death was consigned to the history books,” Proctor said.

Before 2012, advocates had lobbied the legislature for a decade to eliminate capital punishment in Maryland. For them, the four remaining death row inmates symbolized a job not yet finished — and enduring anguish for families.

“For everyone involved, this is the best course of action,” said Jane Henderson, who was executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

“These cases were going to go through the courts and go back and forth in appeals until some sentence was determined,” she said. “This has been the problem with the death penalty for many, many years. It puts families through a roller-coaster. What the death penalty does to the families of victims is just cruel, and it was always going to be that way.”

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who led the fight in the House of Delegates to abolish the death penalty, said O’Malley is doing the right thing.

“It’s done. It’s over with, and life without parole was the appropriate penalty for these four persons and consistent with what we did in the legislature,” Rosenberg said.

The veteran lawmaker expressed confidence that once it’s shut down, Maryland’s Death Row will never reopen. “Clearly the trend across the country is to repeal,” he said.

Sun reporters Erin Cox, Pamela Wood and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun



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