VIDEO: Should Maryland Abolish the Death Penalty?

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and anti-death penalty advocate Kirk Bloodsworth share their opinions about efforts in Annapolis to repeal the state's capital punishment law.

Proposed legislation to repeal Maryland's death penalty is scheduled to be heard by state lawmakers in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday afternoon in Annapolis. 

Before the hearing, supporters of repeal are set to hold an 11:30 a.m. press conference in the House Office Building with NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and relatives of murder victims. The two bills pending in the Senate and House have 85 co-sponsors between them.

Repeal advocates are expected to argue that years of death penalty appeals torment families of murder victims who otherwise would never hear from a defendant sentenced to life in prison.  

Patch caught up with Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger—who supports the death penalty—and Kirk Bloodsworth, the state's leading anti-death penalty advocate, to help frame the debate. (See video.)

Tell us your opinion in comments below.

Both Shellenberger and Bloodsworth offer passionate reasons for their opinions on the death penalty.

Shellenberger said there needs to be an "ultimate punishment" for those who commit certain heinous acts, including the killing of a police officer or the murder of a correctional officer by a prisoner.

"What do you tell the family of a correctional officer when a defendant is already serving life for murder and then they killed your loved one?" Shellenberger said. "There has to be an ultimate penalty."

Bloodsworth served eight years, 10 months and 19 days in prison, including two years on death row, for the 1984 murder of a 9-year-old girl in Rosedale. DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime and Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993.

"Honestly, after what happened to me, no one can say it can’t happen again..." Bloodsworth said. "We need to get rid of it."

Currently, Maryland has five defendants sitting on death row, including three who have avoided being executed since 1983.

The state has executed five men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the last being Wesley Baker in 2005 for the 1991 murder of grandmother Jane Tyson. She was shot and killed during an armed robbery in a Catonsville parking lot in front of her 6-year-old granddaughter and 4-year-old grandson.

Since Baker's execution, Maryland has established some of the most stringent policies in the country for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Shellenberger said since 2009 capital cases in the state are limited to those with "biological or DNA evidence proving guilt, a videotaped confession or a videotape that can link the defendant to a homicide."

Those restrictions, Shellenberger said, practically eliminates the chances of someone being wrongly convicted of capital murder and offer enough safeguards to ensure those improperly imprisoned—like Bloodsworth—are freed.

Baltimore County has only sought the death penalty twice since the new restrictions were put in place, Shellenberger said. Both cases involved defendants in the 2010 murder of Hess gas station owner William "Ray" Porter.

Walter Bishop   after shooting Porter twice at the East Joppa Road station in Towson after he told police he was promised $9,000 from Porter's wife, Karla.

Shellenberger said he will seek the death penalty against Karla Porter, who is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

"I believe that Maryland right now has the most restrictive death penalty statute in the country," Shellenberger said. "[The legislature has] added conditions to our death penalty statute that basically said you can not rely solely on eyewitness testimony, that if you want to go forward with a death penalty case you would also need DNA linking the defendant to the crime, or a video taped confession or an actual video of the murder taking place itself."

Bloodsworth counters that the justice system is far from perfect. He stated that 140 death row inmates have been wrongly convicted in the United States and 280 people have been cleared of crimes through DNA, including 17 on death row.

Bloodsworth also cited the work of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment which recommended in 2008 that the state should repeal the death penalty for fear of executing an innocent person along with concerns over racial and geographic disparities.

Bloodsworth added that that requiring someone to spend the rest of their life in prison is a far worse punishment than having that person executed.

"The crime that I was accused of, and ultimately went to death row for and was later exonerated, the real perpetrator after the fact was never given the death penalty," Bloodsworth said. "I think that it's a better punishment for people because they have to sit in this place for the rest of their lives knowing what they did."

The question is: Where do you stand on repealing Maryland's death penalty? Share your answers in the comments section below.

Peter Nincompoop March 09, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Spoken like a true bigot, while there are some people who abuse the system there are many people that need this assistance to survive. Ending this assistance will destroy many families that are hard working, and it is easy to say that we can just reeducate people and they can start carriers, but when we have created a economic system that does not produce anything and have allowed unions and corporations to export jobs over seas then there are people with no other choice. Three strikes and your out is another failed policy and how can you say that prisoners should be doing "hard labor" that is more like slave labor, like they do in China and many other nations, we need to fix the economic problems that lead people to crime and stop locking people up. The problem with the education system is that we have created a system that is fragmented and so entrenched in bureaucratic mess that is run people who have no interest in education but fights to protect the teachers above those of the students, and inequality distributes resources and ignores the success of charter schools. and before you start calling me names like liberal and socialist and whatever else you think of me, I am life long republican and conservative.
Peter Nincompoop March 09, 2012 at 09:32 PM
I never said redistribution of wealth, and while I am no expert I know the education system is not working and there is an unequal distribution of education in this country that leaves those who need the most help with the least resources.
Eastsider March 09, 2012 at 09:51 PM
So having a difference of opinion that doesn’t equal to yours makes me a bigot. Then so be it, I’m a Bigot per your definition. My beliefs are that we are too easy on society issues today; we continue put tons of taxpayer money into a failing system or systems. I will agree the entire entitlement system is not corrupt but the majority is. You state ending this type of assistance would destroy families. Maybe it would maybe it wouldn’t but we have to start somewhere. There is no reason why a healthy man or women can’t go out and work. Jobs are out there even if it means working on a farm picking food or serving a burger at the corner restaurant. In my opinion they choose not to work. This is a generational problem that has to stop. I would love to see a study done on this, how many families from generation to generation are on public assistance. So what you solution to the prison and judicial system? Again the wheel is broken. We continue to poor tax dollars into a failed system where criminals do limited or no time for crimes and if sentenced to time they do nothing while serving there sentence. Where is the deterrent? As I stated before have a performance based salary for teachers if their students are successful they make top dollar but if they are producing substandard students then their pay id reflected. And do this for the administrators as well. I would make a great check and balances of the system.
Lorna D. Rudnikas March 09, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Eastsider....performance based salary for teachers has a very important hidden issue...students who are not required to excel to the best of their ability by parents. Some students, no matter what is done by school or parents will not buckle down...been that way since forever. But to impose a performance based salary on teachers that try, try their very best with only a substandard support system from parents is an unfortunate losing battle all the way around. Of course some students will rise above the non-parent interest and excel in spite of. It would seem to be a fairly easy job to weed out teachers that simply don't teach...Principals know their staff or should and it should be their job to make sure their staff are up to par. If Johnnie or Mary Sue are not doing their homework, fulfilling their expectations at school, are there any consequences via the parents with regard to their social life, sports, etc? Teachers cannot possibly do it all. Of course there may be some who do very little, but I suspect they are in the minority. Recommendation..tough it up at school and tough it up as home...teacher/parent teamwork. Educators and parents...pass this strong message on the first day at school in a big assembly and stick to it. I suspect that could work very well...use to, honest!!!
Snake March 09, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I believe the death penalty is appropriate in some instances. I would like to see it become the mandatory sentence for selling drugs in any quantity as drugs slowly and painfully destroy lives and families. It is like the worst lingering torture one can suffer through so anyone who would try to profit from this should be put to death. Its really the only way to stop drugs as there is so much monetary reward for the sellers mere jail time is no deterrent.
Nick March 10, 2012 at 11:15 AM
A federal court recently ruled that Maryland's restrictions on concealed handguns was unconstitutional.
withavengeance March 10, 2012 at 02:21 PM
@ Nick: Looks like your comment has been ignored. This ruling is a good beginning, but it's only the beginning. In his 'infinite wisdom', Gansler has already filed an appeal. If a criminal thought we might be armed, they'd think twice about committing their crime against us, now wouldn't they? I'd love to be able to carry concealed.
John Citzen March 10, 2012 at 02:49 PM
@withavengeance it is amazing even though the appeal will fail our goverment decides to try any way. (waste) and to get a permit to carry concealed I get my tax records, health issues, credit cards, bills and have to prove myself a good citzen of the state before I might get one. A criminal worries not about such things picks up an illegal gun (which I had to go thru piles of paperwork for) and shoots people. Then I am forced to pay huge tax dollars to an A-list of lawyers to defend him against a death penalty that is used so infrequently they can list the names on one paper. Prisions by far are not perfect and should be harder places to be in but untill will start to open our eyes to what is bad and what is good it will never happen. Some people cannot be rehabed. Heaven forbid you defend yourself or your family then you are put in the same hole as them.
Lorna D. Rudnikas March 10, 2012 at 05:26 PM
By golly, John Citizen...you hit the nail on the head...And so constant spins by the legal system continue to push toward arming the criminal and disarming the citizen/victims...and on, and on, and on. How did we get to this point? When did it all begin in a way that was all but ignored by the average law abiding citizen until the point of chaotic mumbo-jumbo senseless disregard for common sense solutions faded into the woodwork? And here we are now looking through a fog of garbaage. And last but not least, do we really, really want to rehab murderers? I am all for it if we can bring their victims back to life..no sweat!!!
Nick March 10, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I know it is a long road, but I am glad that we are taking a positive step towards recovering our 2nd amendment rights. The founding fathers chose to keep the language concise for a reason. They wanted the right to keep and BEAR arms to never be challenged in any way. I have several friends that live in Virginia and they all have carry permits and routinely carry sidearms. Not one has ever had a problem doing so. I work in the city and it would be nice to be able to arm myself too, since the criminals walking around don't think twice about carrying a weapon.
Roland March 10, 2012 at 08:55 PM
If DNA shows the suspect guilty of the murder then he/she should be executed. Why should taxpayers support someone that has no respect for life? People are under the illusion that jail is a significant penalty for those serving life. It isn't. It's a club....
Buck Harmon March 11, 2012 at 03:18 PM
No, sweat could be a solution...I like the idea of hard work camps.. forcing bad people to earn their keep by growing food or busting stone ...anything productive..work till you die...
Buck Harmon March 11, 2012 at 03:23 PM
DNA can be easily flawed...
withavengeance March 11, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Not THAT easily! Maybe like 1 in 1,000,000.
Buck Harmon March 11, 2012 at 10:08 PM
statistics are easily and equally flawed.... kinda like our public voting process...
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:21 AM
amen to that ! why does it still cost a lot of $ with appeals....hard working and law abiding citizens should not have to pay for such waste of $.
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:24 AM
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:24 AM
that is very true
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Sorry to hear about your story Karen,that is very true...the loss of a loved one never fades at all,it is a pain that never ends.and especially under such circumstances.Please keep writing those letters to the parole board to make sure that the monster stay locked up until the very end.Most of them end up killing again once released ! and why should honest,hard working and law abiding citizens pay for such kind of people? we are not killing enough in the USA !
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM
i agree
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM
u bet !
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:35 AM
I think ,if the death penalty could be sped up,folks would think twice about taking other`s lives! why sit on death row for 20 + years,watching tv,free healthcare,meals...stubbing other inmates and attacking guards since you" aint got nothing to loose"? i work way too hard for my $,we definitely should kill more and faster! a lot of folks are waiting for organ "donors" to save their lives,well guess what folks? California(just to name one state) has thousands of condemned on death row ! that means thousands of spare parts...waiting to be harvested without consent of course.you take a life,you pay with yours ! how does that sound ? WONDERFUL ,if you ask me .
al tikriti April 10, 2012 at 12:40 AM
agree on that ! in MD,folks(law abiding citizens) dont even carry conceal weapons...yet criminals have the upper hand.and now they even wanna abolish capital punishment ? what the bloody hell is wrong with people ? i would rather get shot while i was reaching for my piece rather than kneeling down and begging for my life ! any politician is not for pro guns,pro death penalty aint getting my vote,period !
na May 09, 2013 at 12:04 AM
If u kill someone whom has kill someone think about it you will be just as bad truly think about it
Lorna D. Rudnikas May 09, 2013 at 04:14 AM
Of course, na, it is much better to feed, cloth, educate, give heart transplants, kidney transplants if needed....for perhaps 50 years or so. Absolutely...after all they worthy of life and all it has to offer. The only nagging thing about it all, at least for me, is what about the victim of murder???? Perhaps if we could get their opinion on this....mmmmm
Cheryl May 09, 2013 at 05:05 AM
Actually she probably wouldn't even want to kill him. She was so lovable to all walks of life. I want to be able to Video it and play it for her son when he becomes 18 so he can watch it right after he views the video confession of his mother's brutal heinous senseless beating, drowning and burning and the murder attempts of two of her friends by poisoning and stabbing them. If he so chooses to ever watch them. I still have not viewed the confession. I have seen some of the crime scene photos and felt her burnt body under a satin sheet in her casket. Her breasts were burnt off. Her fingers were burnt off her hands. We could not see her beautiful face. He had broken her nose and knocked her front teeth out. He stepped on her head to hold it under the bathtub water. Her son already has to live without his father who was beaten so bad he is paralyzed from the neck down. This happened when he was jumped by several men 2 months after his mother was murdered. And those men were former prisoners. Read my other posts if you want more details on this horrific crime. I hope I live to see the day that Jeffery E. Cordell dies. What's wrong with that? I'm glad I got to see the day my father died he didn't murder anyone that I know of but he molested me. http://www.cecildaily.com/news/local_news/article_e7cfa8dc-980a-11e2-b532-001a4bcf887a.html or just go to the site and read all the articles written on this monster. There are more articles you have to go to Cecil whig and search for them.
Buck Harmon May 09, 2013 at 12:36 PM
The corporate prison for profit system makes more money by keeping them alive and being payed for the services described by Lorna. The illusion presented to the public as "life" or "death" keeps the focus away from the reality here, as with many of the functions of government...end result of a dumbed down public...it's no longer about truth and justice..
1ke May 09, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Agreed. Write that in your book. Mass incarceration is also about social control in post-industrial capitalist society. If you do not agree to this, the corollary of your above proposition, I lose respect for your intellectual integrity, no big deal for either of us.
Buck Harmon May 09, 2013 at 02:10 PM
"Mass incarceration is also about social control in post-industrial capitalist society." Agreed..
1ke May 09, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Twice in one day. Read "Washington Rules" http://www.amazon.com/Washington-Rules-Americas-Permanent-American/dp/B0055X4CS8


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