Md. governor halts executions in state until study done
By Richard Willing
May 10, 2002

Citing ''reasonable questions'' about capital punishment, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening declared a moratorium on executions at least until a state-ordered study of the death penalty is completed later this year.

''I continue to believe that there are certain crimes that are so brutal and so vile that they call for society to impose the ultimate punishment,'' Glendening, a Democrat, said. ''However, reasonable questions have been raised in Maryland and across the country about the application of the death penalty.''

Glendening's decision postponed the execution of convicted murderer Wesley Baker, scheduled for next week, and perhaps as many as six other convicted killers who are nearly out of appeals.

Baker, 44, was convicted of killing a woman in front of her young grandchildren during a 1991 shopping mall robbery.

The decision also boosted hopes of death penalty foes, who have tried unsuccessfully over the past year to persuade legislatures in at least 14 states to suspend the death penalty. One other governor, Republican George Ryan of Illinois, ordered a moratorium, in January 2000. It remains in effect.

Glendening's decision shows ''leadership on an issue of fairness and basic justice that is increasingly gaining momentum,'' said Jane Henderson, director of the Quixote Center, a social issues group in Brentwood, Md., that has lobbied for the suspension.

A University of Maryland study of the fairness of the state's death penalty is scheduled to be completed in September. Henderson noted that 9 of 13 convicts on Maryland's death row, including Baker, are black.

Death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp said Glendening's decision unnecessarily delays the execution of a ''just sentence.''

''Neither the family nor the court has any doubt that this is the right guy, and there's no indication of racial bias,'' said Sharp, resource director for Justice For All, a Houston-based victims support group. He noted that Glendening could have commuted Baker's sentence if he believes the convicted killer doesn't deserve the death penalty.

Maryland's death row is 28th in size among the 37 states and two federal jurisdictions that currently hold prisoners awaiting execution. The state has put to death only three convicts since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, two of them during Glendening's tenure.

Nationwide, 66 executions were carried out last year, down from 85 in 2000. This year, executions have continued to decline except in Texas, which has accounted for 10 of the 24 sentences carried out.