ANNAPOLIS, Md. — NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said Tuesday that Maryland needs to abolish capital punishment to help lead the way in ending it in other states, and he believes the September execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last year has sparked greater interest in ending the death penalty.
"People in this country care about fairness," Jealous said at a news conference in Annapolis with other civil rights leaders and state lawmakers opposed to capital punishment. "They're outraged about what happened to Troy Davis. They want to see our country join the rest of the western world and abolish the death penalty. In order to get there, Maryland has to do it."
Davis, who was executed in September after being convicted in the 1989 shooting death of an off-duty Savannah police officer, said he was innocent. His supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI, argued there was too much doubt to allow the execution to proceed. The slain officer's family and prosecutors said the right man was convicted in the killing.
Some Maryland lawmakers will seek a repeal in the legislative session that begins Wednesday. They say they have a majority of support in both the House and Senate, but they say they are one vote shy on a Senate committee to move the bill to a full vote.
"We've abolished it in Illinois in recent years; we've abolished it in New Jersey in recent years; we've abolished it in New Mexico in recent years, and there is no reason why it has not been abolished here, except for a few politicians who have gotten in the way," Jealous said.
Jealous said the Baltimore-based NAACP is focusing on two other states where they believe there is opportunity for repeal, Connecticut and California.
"Even in Georgia, people see an opportunity to start sort of chipping away at the death penalty in a way that we haven't seen, because the state is still on fire" over the Davis case, Jealous said.
Maryland's death penalty has been on hold since a 2006 Court of Appeals ruling found the state's lethal injection protocols weren't properly approved by a legislative committee. Executions can't resume until new protocols are developed for a legislative panel to approve.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a death penalty opponent, pushed hard for repeal in his first term, but the measure stalled in the state Senate. Instead, lawmakers compromised by restricting capital punishment to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.
Maryland has five men on death row, and five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker was the last person to be executed in Maryland, in December 2005.