Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill to repeal the death penalty in the state Thursday and replace it with life in prison without parole.
Maryland becomes the 18th state to ban the death penalty, and the sixth state in six years, after New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut.
Repealing capital punishment has been a long-time goal of O’Malley’s. The Democrat penned a Washington Post editorial “Why I Oppose the Death Penalty” in 2007, and his previous repeal attempt was unsuccessful in 2009.
The Maryland state Senate and House of Delegates gave the bill final passage in March.
Rather than focus solely on the moral and social implications, O’Malley and repeal supporters made their argument this time partly through economic points.
It’s still possible the death penalty discussion could continue in Maryland because of an article in the state constitution that allows for a ballot referendum on recently-passed laws. A Washington Post poll earlier this year found that a majority of voters there actually support allowing capital punishment,with 60% in favor of keeping it and 36% favoring a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
No prisoner has been executed in Maryland since 2005 because the state’s top court ruled in 2006 that lethal injection rules were not properly approved. Five men in the state are sitting on death row, and O’Malley has so far not commuted their sentences.
The death penalty repeal bill became law during a mass bill-signing ceremony Thursday, which also included the approval of more than 200 other measures, including bills that will legalize medical marijuana, make it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, expand early voting, and make cyberbullying a crime.