2-15-12: The Application of the Death Penalty
Could a Maryland law intended to limit the number of cases to which the death penalty applies actually be considered “cruel and unusual”? A national expert we talked to thinks — perhaps.
This is of issue this week — opening statements are scheduled today in the sentencing of Lee Stephens in Anne Arundel County’s Circuit Court. Stephens was found guilty last week of the 2006 murder of Corporal David McGuinn, a guard at the now-closed correctional facility in Jessup. Stephens was a prisoner there, serving a life sentence for another crime, and the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney is seeking the death penalty in this case.
Capital punishment has not been an option for prosecutors in many cases in Maryland since a 2009 state law took effect. It limits when the death penalty can be pursued– the law states that the death penalty can only be applied in cases of first degree murder when there is DNA evidence, a video-taped confession, or video of the crime. This is the first time that it’s being sought under the DNA evidence part of the law.
But if the law is only applied to a subset of cases — then is it being unjustly applied? That’s what Sheilah talks about with Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that analyzes laws dealing with capital punishment around the country.
In related topics — there’s a bill now before the Maryland legislature that would repeal the death penalty (proposed by Democrat Sandy Rosenberg in the House and Lisa Gladden in the Senate). Such proposals have failed to get through the Senate Judiciary committee in the past–there is a committee hearing scheduled for March 7th. There’s also a bill, sponsored by Delegate Gail Bates of Howard County, to take away the evidence requirements for any murder committed in a prison.