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Death Row in the Free State

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Troy Davis

In the aftermath of the controversial execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis by the state of Georgia, City Paper wondered about the fate of Maryland’s own death row inmates.

Today, there are five men on death row, incarcerated in the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland: Heath Burch (Prince George’s County, convicted in 1996), Jody Miles (Wicomico County, convicted in 1998), and three men convicted in 1984: Anthony Grandison, Vernon Evans Jr, (both Baltimore County), and John Booth (Baltimore City). Yet their executions may not be carried out for years to come, due to a combination of moratoriums and legal proceedings.

In 2002, then Gov. Parris Glendening (D) placed a moratorium on executions in Maryland until a state-mandated study of capital punishment could be completed. The study found that the death penalty unfairly targeted specific groups, dependent upon race and geographic location. Nonetheless, the moratorium was lifted in 2003, and Wesley Baker died by lethal injection in December 2005, the last Marylander executed by the state to date. (Then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Glendening’s Republican successor, denied Baker clemency.) In 2006, a death warrant was signed for Vernon Evans, who had been sentenced to die in 1984. Evans’ attorneys appealed his sentence, arguing that the jury did not hear about the possible extenuating circumstance of his troubled childhood, and also contested the method of lethal injection, contending that the protocol did not meet the state’s Administrative Procedure Act. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Evans’ favor, instigating a de facto moratorium until the execution guidelines could be rewritten. According to Danielle Lueking, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, those guidelines are still being rewritten today.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s death row inmates remain on death row. “Just because there is a de facto moratorium does not mean their sentences are changed,” Lueking notes. The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, convened in 2008, opposed the repeal of the death penalty, citing it as a deterrent for crime. The moratorium still stands thanks to the Evans appeal, but executions could begin again when the state approves new lethal-injection protocols.

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