Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Washington Post - Md. voters remain divided on death penalty

Md. voters remain divided on death penalty

The death penalty has sparked intense debate in Maryland in recent years -- but attitudes among residents haven't changed much.

Sixty percent of Marylanders favor use of the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 32 percent are opposed, according to a new Washington Post poll.

Those figures don't tell the entire story: Given a choice, more say they prefer the punishment of life in prison with no chance of parole than the death penalty -- by 49 percent to 40 percent.

Neither result has changed much since The Post asked the same questions three years ago.

In 2007, 60 percent supported the death penalty, while 35 percent opposed. And 52 percent said they preferred life without parole for those convicted of murder, while 43 percent said they preferred the death penalty.

Since then, efforts by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to repeal the death penalty have repeatedly fallen short in the General Assembly. Those bills all sought to replace capital punishment with life without parole.

O'Malley has been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty since taking office in 2007, arguing that it is "inherently unjust," not an effective deterrent and saps resources that could be better spent preventing crime.

His chief Republican rival, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has vowed to make O'Malley's handling of the death penalty an issue in this year's campaign, accusing O'Malley of "shenanigans" to avoid carrying out a law with which he disagrees personally.

Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since December 2006, when the state's highest court ruled that procedures for lethal injections had not been properly adopted.

To date, O'Malley has not implemented new regulations that would allow executions to resume. He claims his administration is moving diligently in that direction, but advocates on both sides of the issue say they strongly doubt any of Maryland's five condemned inmates will be executed before the November election.

The state's last execution took place in 2005, when Ehrlich was governor.

Though O'Malley's position is riskier politically, neither candidate appears too far out of step with their political base on the issue.

The Post poll found that 75 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents favor the death penalty. Democrats are more evenly divided, with 48 percent in favor of its use and 44 percent opposed.

Given the choice between the two penalties, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to prefer the death penalty, while independents are evenly split, with just as many favoring life without parole.

The poll also underscored racial and gender divisions over the issue. Whites are far more likely than blacks to support the death penalty (70 percent to 43 percent), and more men than women support capital punishment (66 percent to 54 percent).

-- John Wagner and Jennifer Agiesta


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