Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced last week that he will commute the death sentences of the four men who remain on death row nearly two years after Maryland abolished capital punishment.
The governor signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Maryland on May 2, 2013. The bill did not expressly apply to people who had already been sentenced to death. Five men were on death row when the legislation took effect; one has since died of natural causes.
“In my judgment,” Governor O’Malley said in a statement on December 31, “leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.” In announcing that he will commute the sentences of Jody Lee Miles, Anthony Grandison, Vernon Evans and Heath Burch to life imprisonment without parole, the governor cited the recent opinion from Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler that death sentences could no longer be carried out in Maryland because there is no death penalty statute on the books and no procedures in place for administering executions.
Governor O’Malley, whose second and final term as governor ends this month, expressed hope that the commutations would bring “a greater degree of closure for all of the survivors and their families.” The commutations are consistent with the trend of fewer executions and fewer death sentences nationwide. In the face of growing evidence about the unreliability of the death penalty, fewer executions took place in 2014 than in any year since 1994 and there were fewer death sentences since 1974. Maryland was one of six states to ban the death penalty between 2007 and 2013.
“In the final analysis, there is one truth that stands between and before all of us,” said O’Malley. “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.”