Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Where are you, Lt. Gov. Steele?

This editorial ran in today's Washington Post:

A Tardy Look at Executions

When Maryland put Wesley E. Baker to death last week, it highlighted just
about all the disparities that afflict its use of capital punishment. Mr.Baker
was an African American man who killed a white person in Baltimore County.
Blacks who kill whites are substantially more likely to receive the death
penalty in Maryland than are whites who kill blacks, and Baltimore County
prosecutors are dramatically more likely to seek it than are their counterparts

While Mr. Baker committed a horrible crime, his execution nonetheless poses
the question of whether the justice system would have demanded his life had he
or his victim looked different or had the crime taken place somewhere else. Such
disparities used to bother Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) -- and presumably
still do. Mr. Steele, now running for U.S. senator, opposes the death penalty.
Nearly three years ago, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) lifted his
predecessor's moratorium on executions -- disregarding aUniversity of Maryland
study that clarified just how unevenly the state's death penalty is applied --
Mr. Steele expressed concern.

Mr. Ehrlich asked him to study the issue further and make recommendations.
Yet even as Maryland has resumed executions, Mr. Steele's long-awaited study has
not materialized. While he has reportedly met with people to discuss the
subject, there has been no formal task force -- something the governor's office
says neither Mr. Ehrlich nor Mr. Steele ever envisioned. A spokesman for the
governor, Henry P. Fawell, says Mr. Steele has met with a variety of interested
parties and expects to make his much-delayed recommendations in the first few
months of the new year.

Maryland's use of the death penalty is relatively rare. Yet partly because
it is used so infrequently, its disparities can become particularly pronounced.
Reserving the death penalty for the worst of the worst is better than profligate
executions. But capital punishment cannot be reserved for black killers of white
people in Baltimore County.

As an opponent of capital punishment in an administration that has
dismissed such concerns, there is undoubtedly a limit to Mr. Steele's influence.
Yet burying the issue for 3 years is not a sign of political courage.

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