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Md. Panel Hears Views On Death Penalty; Urban Institute Study Says Capital Cases Cost Much More

Resource type: News

The Washington Post |

by John Wagner The cost associated with prosecuting a case in Maryland in which the death penalty is imposed is on average $1.9 million more than the cost of a similar case in which capital punishment is not sought, a researcher told a state commission yesterday. The analysis was embraced by death penalty opponents, but supporters of capital punishment, including two Maryland prosecutors, vigorously sought to discredit the study by the nonpartisan Washington-based Urban Institute. They argued that the methodology was flawed and cost assumptions greatly inflated. Joseph Cassilly, the state’s attorney for Harford County, said that the study was “so far off the mark as to be incomprehensible and useless” and that it contained “significant errors of math.” Cassilly acknowledged that there are additional costs associated with a death-penalty case but said, “We’re talking costs in the thousands of dollars, not in the millions of dollars.” The clash came in the latest in a series of contentious hearings by the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which has been asked to present recommendations on the future of the death penalty to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and state lawmakers by the end of the year. The high-profile panel also heard an appeal from the archbishop of Baltimore to replace capital punishment with “a bloodless alternative.” Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, who spoke on behalf of the Maryland Catholic Conference, described himself as “something of a latecomer” to his position. “I thought it served a purpose,” O’Brien said of the death penalty. “If it did nothing else, I thought, it was a deterrent — the prospect of its imposition would prevent the wrongful taking of human life. But that was then.” O’Brien appeared on a panel of religious leaders that also included Eugene Taylor Sutton, the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, who asked the panel: “How, in the end, does killing its citizens help the state to build the nonviolent, just and civil society that we all desire for ourselves and for our children?” Maryland has had an effective moratorium on the death penalty since the state’s highest court ruled in December 2006 that procedures for lethal injection had not been adopted properly. O’Malley, a death penalty opponent, only recently directed his administration to begin the process of drafting new regulations, which are not expected to be issued before the commission completes its work. Maryland has executed five people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Five inmates are on death row. John K. Roman, a senior research associate who presented the Urban Institute study to the commission, said his organization was not advocating the repeal or continuation of capital punishment. Rather, he said, he wanted commission members to be more fully informed of the policy implications of maintaining “a death penalty regime” in Maryland. The institute’s study said a case that results in a death sentence costs taxpayers approximately $3 million The study of 1,227 crimes eligible for the death penalty between 1978 and 1999 sought to quantify a wide range of cost differences associated with prosecuting the cases, including multiple appeal stages and incarceration. Among those questioning the methodology of the study was Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney in Baltimore County and a commission member. Shellenberger cited a death penalty case he had prosecuted, saying it resulted in little additional cost to taxpayers. Cassilly suggested that commission members should not give economic studies much weight in their deliberations, saying, “Justice is not a cost-benefit analysis.” Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), a member of the commission who opposes capital punishment, countered that although the death penalty is a moral issue for many people, some of his colleagues are interested in issues related to the costs of imposing it. The commission was also presented yesterday with a letter from Maryland Citizens Against State Executions that was said to have been signed by 49 Maryland residents who are relatives of murder victims and have concluded that the state would be “better off” without capital punishment. The letter asks that the General Assembly replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. “To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure,” the letter says. “Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither.”

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