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Md. death penalty commission holds 2nd hearing

Resource type: News

Associated Press |

Original Source By BRIAN WITTE, The Associated Press ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The daughter of a murdered elderly couple told a commission studying Maryland’s death penalty on Tuesday to fix flaws in capital punishment – not to repeal it – while critics argued that capital cases are susceptible to legal errors. Phyllis Bricker’s elderly parents, Irvin and Rose Bronstein, were murdered more than 25 years ago in Baltimore by John Booth-El, one of Maryland’s five death row inmates. “Criminals will no longer fear being executed in Maryland, no matter how heinous their crime,” Bricker said, if Maryland’s death penalty law is repealed. “There is no question now about the innocence or guilt in this case.” Bricker also told the panel, which has been studying racial disparities in capital punishment, that it was former Baltimore State’s Attorney Kurt Schmoke, who is black and went on to be the city’s mayor, who sought the death penalty against Booth-El, who also is black. “Three separate Baltimore city juries … 12 members each, men and women, black and white, have sentenced this man to death,” Bricker said. The commission, which held its second public hearing, also heard testimony from Deborah Fleischaker, a former director of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium Project. She told the commission that ineffective legal counsel has been a major cause of serious errors in capital cases, including wrongful convictions. She specifically mentioned the case of Flint Gregory Hunt, who was executed in Maryland in 1997 for killing a Baltimore police officer, as an example. She said neither of Hunt’s three attorneys was highly qualified to defend him. “Consequently, the defense never raised important facts like that Hunt was high on PCP when the shooting occurred, which might well have countered the prosecutor’s case that the murder was premeditated, and thus death eligible,” she told the panel. Defense attorneys Harry Trainor and Bill Brennan, who have represented capital defendants, also testified. Trainor told the panel society will have to learn to accept that serious mistakes will be made, if it decides to keep the death penalty. “There will always be an error rate, because this isn’t a system that’s run by infallible human beings, and it’s impossible in the long run to run a system like this without making serious mistakes,” Trainor said. Trainor pointed to the case of Kirk Bloodsworth, a commission member and former Maryland death row inmate whose case was the first capital conviction overturned as a result of DNA testing in the United States. The commission includes three relatives of murder victims. Tuesday’s hearing was one of several that will be held before the panel issues recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly by Dec. 15. A third hearing scheduled for Aug. 19 will focus on cost comparisons of the death penalty with alternative sentences. A fourth set for Sept. 5 will include discussions about the risk of innocent people being executed. There is a de facto moratorium against capital punishment in Maryland because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state’s highest court. The court ruled the state’s protocol for lethal injection was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until the Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration submits new rules for the committee to approve. O’Malley, a death penalty opponent, has directed the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections to begin working on the protocol, a process that could be finished by the end of the year. Five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person executed in Maryland. Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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