Death Penalty Repeal in Maryland Major Step Towards National Abolition

Press Release
March 15, 2013

Death Penalty Repeal in Maryland Major Step Towards National Abolition

Governor Must Commute Sentences of Remaining Inmates, Allocate Funds to Victims' Families

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) hailed the repeal of the death penalty in Maryland today and urged Governor Martin O'Malley, a proponent of the bill, to commute the sentences of all five prisoners remaining on death row. Maryland will become the sixth state in six years to repeal capital punishment when Governor O'Malley signs the bill as expected in the coming weeks.

"This is a great victory for human rights, and a major step towards ending the cruel and anachronistic practice of capital punishment in the United States," said Brian Evans, Acting Director of AIUSA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. "The death penalty is a fundamental human rights violation for a reason – it’s irreversible."

"Having failed to eliminate the risk of executing an innocent person, Maryland lawmakers came to the right conclusion and voted to send the death penalty where it belongs - into the dustbin of history," said Evans.

As AIUSA praised Governor O'Malley for making the abolition bill the signature issue of his legislative agenda, the organization also urged him to set aside money in the state's budget to support victims' families. Funds allocated were stripped from the original bill.

"We must help victims' families rebuild their lives and make communities safer from violence," said Evans.

"Times were extremely difficult when we began campaigning in Maryland," said Cathy Knepper, a longtime Amnesty International activist who served as Amnesty's state death penalty abolition coordinator from 1985 to 2005. "Most Americans believed that the death penalty was as American as apple pie. We were actively spurned. Over the years, we have seen our message gradually become more and more acceptable - that the death penalty is the ultimate human rights abuse and a terrible waste of taxpayers' money that could be used to fight crime and support victims. This is a day to celebrate the evolution of thinking that has finally overturned this abhorrent practice in the state of Maryland."

Maryland will become the 18th state to repeal the death penalty and in the coming weeks, serious debates on abolition are likely to take place in Delaware and Colorado.

Amnesty International has led a global movement to abolish capital punishment since 1977 and has been organizing grassroots abolition efforts in Maryland for decades, serving as an integral member of the Maryland Citizens Against State Executions coalition.

According to Amnesty International's most recent annual worldwide death penalty survey in 2012, the United States stands almost alone among industrialized countries retaining the death penalty.

Since 1990, more than 50 countries have abolished the death penalty, including Haiti, Paraguay, Romania, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and Rwanda. More than two thirds of the world's countries no longer execute people or use the death penalty. It is a disturbing fact that in 2012, the United States remained among the top five countries that carried out the highest number of known judicial executions. The others were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, whose governments have consistently demonstrated notoriously poor human rights records.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.