Outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley commuted the sentences of four death row inmates to life without parole.
With the support of O’Malley, the death penalty in Maryland was abolished in 2013.
O’Malley argued that it was not a deterrent for criminals, that innocent people could have the sentence applied to them, and that it cost the state more than other punishments, reports The Huffington Post.
Maryland’s abolishment of the death penalty did not alter existing death sentences, and four men convicted of murder remained on death row.
On New Year’s Eve, O’Malley made the decision to change the fates of the four men who had been sentenced to death.
The statement released by O’Malley reads in part:
“In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.
Gubernatorial inaction at this point in the legal process would, in my judgment, needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns and without any hope of finality or closure.
In the final analysis, there is one truth that stands between and before all of us. That truth is this — few of us would ever wish for our children or grandchildren to kill another human being or to take part in the killing of another human being. The legislature has expressed this truth by abolishing the death penalty in Maryland.
For these reasons, I intend to commute Maryland’s four remaining death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.
It is my hope that these commutations might bring about a greater degree of closure for all of the survivors and their families.”
The four men who had been sentenced to death — Heath Burch, Vernon Evans Jr., Anthony Grandison and Jody Lee Miles — will now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, reports The New York Times.
O’Malley’s decision comes after debate in Maryland over whether death sentences could be enforced given the new law. Attorney General of Maryland Douglas F. Gansler said in November that Miles’ pending death sentence was “unenforceable,” citing the lack of authority the Maryland Division of Corrections has to issue a protocol for lethal injections.
States Attorney for Baltimore County Scott D. Shellenberger voiced his disapproval with the “not unexpected” decision.
“I’m very disappointed in the decision,” said Shellenberger. “These sentences were lawful and remain lawful. They were imposed by a jury. Numerous judges have affirmed these convictions, and it’s interesting that in the last 21 days of the administration, that suddenly he has decided to show mercy on individuals who showed absolutely no mercy to the victims of their crimes.”
Shellenberger’s county prosecuted two of the men, Evans and Grandison, in 1983 for the murders of two people at a motel.
The mother and other survivors of slain Edward J. Atkinson by Miles in 1997, said they would prefer he be executed, but had accepted Maryland’s “legal and political realities” and were in support of the commutation decision.
Republican Larry Hogan, the incoming governor, has indicated he will not ask the state’s legislature to reinstate the death penalty.
O’Malley is rumored to be a likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.