A Potential 2016 Contender Just Took Every Prisoner Off His State's Death Row

Martin O'MalleyGettyMaryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) used the last day of 2014 to commute all of his state’s remaining death sentences to life in prison.

“In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future,” O’Malley said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

O’Malley, who is considering running for president in 2016, said he based his decision on the fact that Maryland’s death penalty was repealed last year.

Since then, O’Malley and the state’s attorney general have argued the repeal left the four inmates who were already sentenced to death in limbo.

“Recent appeals and the latest opinion on this matter by Maryland’s Attorney General have called into question the legality of carrying out earlier death sentences — sentences imposed prior to abolition. In fact, the Attorney General has opined that the carrying out of prior sentences is now illegal in the absence of an existing statute,” O’Malley said. “The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand.”

According to The Washington Post, the four inmates affected by O’Malley’s decision are Vernon Evans, Anthony Grandison, Heath Burch, and Jody Lee Miles. Evans and Grandison were reportedly sentenced to death in 1984 for a “contract killing” of two people who were set to testify against Grandison in a federal drug trial. Burch was convicted of killing his two neighbours with a pair of scissors. Miles was convicted for a murder and robbery.

O’Malley will be replaced by a Republican, Larry Hogan, next year. Advocates, including the Post editorial board, urged him to commute the sentences before his successor — who reportedly supports the death penalty — takes office.

“In signing the abolition of capital punishment into law last year, he was unequivocal: ‘It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.’ Having made the moral case for abolition so eloquently, he should have no trouble making the practical case for commutation to life without parole for the four remaining condemned men. And he should act without further delay,” the paper wrote in November.

O’Malley said he took the time to meet with the victims’ families before ultimately announcing his decision on Wednesday. The governor argued leaving the convicts on death row would “callously” subject the victims’ families to a lengthy and confusing legal process. 

“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,” he said. “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.”

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