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Testimony to Repeal Capital Punishment

Annapolis, MD

Chairman Vallario, Vice-Chair Dumais, Members of the Committee:

As the Chief Executive of Baltimore City for 7 years, I watched our city become the most violent and addicted in America. I was very, very close to the pain, and suffering, and tragedy and was witness to horrendous crimes, violent crimes, murders, crimes against humanity, crimes against our children.  Crimes that cried out for justice.

In the entire time that the City of the Baltimore had found itself slipping into the dubiousness of becoming the most violent and drug addicted city in America. The death penalty was on the books and did absolutely nothing to prevent these awful crimes.

With concerted effort—by doing the things that work—we drove down violent crime by 42% in Baltimore City. Not because of the death penalty, not because of great use of the death penalty, but by doing the things that work. Timely, accurate information shared by all, ComStat, direct deployment of resources, solving crimes, more effective prosecutions, better and more widely available drug- treatment,… all these things work.

Statewide we’re also doing things that actually work to save lives – more effective policing, better technology, smarter strategies. And together with law enforcement, we’ve driven down violent crime and homicide to three decade lows.

As we consider whether to replace the death penalty with life without parole, there are three questions, to my mind, that we must address:

Does the death penalty work?
Is the death penalty an effective use of limited taxpayer dollars?
Is the death penalty consistent with our values?

Does the Death Penalty Work?

Especially in tough times, if a public policy is expensive and does not work, it would seem to me that we should stop doing it.

The death penalty is exactly that. It is expensive, and the overwhelming evidence tells us that it does not work.

In a 2009 study, 88% of criminologists said they do not believe the death penalty deters violent crime.  A majority of police chiefs concurred in a separate study that year.

I am hard pressed to remember a single incident that ever took place in the city of Baltimore—a murder or attempted murder—where any of the perpetrators ever confessed or relayed that they paused for two seconds, because we had the death penalty, before they pulled the trigger.

In 2011, the average murder rate in states where there is a death penalty was 4.9 per 100,000 people.  In states without it, the murder rate was lower. It was 4.1 per 100,000 people.

In 2008, our own Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment held hours of hearings, and considered days of testimony.

The Commission, chaired by former US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, was near unanimous in reporting that quote “the administration of the death penalty clearly shows racial bias” end quote.  They determined that no administrative fixes could end these disparities.

The Commission also found that, between 1995 and 2007, our State’s reversal rate for the death penalty was 80%.  A recent New York Times editorial described this as “stunningly high.”

The Commission also found that the cost to taxpayers of pursuing a capital case in Maryland is three times as much as the cost of pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction.

And, the Commission found that for every 8.7 Americans sent to death row, there has been one innocent person exonerated.

Subsequent research tells us that between 2000 and 2011, an average of 5 death row inmates were exonerated every year.

There is no such thing as a guaranteed foolproof death penalty,… and there is no way to reverse a “mistake” if we execute an innocent person.

Taxpayer Dollars

Every dollar we throw at an ineffective, flawed, arbitrary death penalty, is a dollar we are not investing to prevent future murders.

Effective policing, the Violence Prevention Initiative, DNA collection, license plate readers, digital fingerprinting– these are all things work, to prevent crimes, to solve crimes, to reduce violent crimes and murders. Repealing Maryland’s death penalty could free up millions of dollars to allow us to do more of these things that actually work.

Our Values

Finally, across our ever-more-closely connected world, the majority of public executions now take place in just seven countries: Iran. Iraq. The People’s Republic of China. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. And the United States of America.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, our free and diverse Republic was not founded on fear, or on revenge, or on retribution.  Freedom, justice, the dignity of every individual, equal rights before the law – these are the principals that define our character.  They are the treasures of our great nation, and the death penalty is inconsistent with these principles.

The death penalty does not make us stronger or more secure as a people.  Nor does the death penalty make our laws more effective or more just.  Capital punishment is expensive, it does not work, and we should replace it with life without parole.

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