There is capital news from coast-to-coast today, and some that I am still catching up on from yesterday. We'll move from Maryland, west to Missouri, Nebraska, California, and Washington. Let's start with today's Washington Post editorial focused on Maryland, "A Governor Stands Up."
ABOLISHING Maryland's death penalty did not figure in Martin O'Malley's successful campaign for governor last year or in his announced agenda for this year's session of the state legislature. So the path of least resistance would have been for him to say nothing, or very little, in response to opponents of capital punishment, who are clamoring for its repeal. Instead, he has joined their fight. In doing so he has lent his fledgling administration a sense of purpose and moral clarity.
The governor, who has long opposed capital punishment, could probably have achieved his policy goals by doing nothing. In December, Maryland's Court of Appeals effectively halted executions by ruling that the state's procedures for lethal injections were adopted without adequate legislative oversight. In the absence of a legislative remedy to restart what are already infrequent executions, Mr. O'Malley could have sat back and enjoyed four years as governor without having a single death warrant land on his desk for signature.
The Columbia Missourian has, "Bills call for hold and review of death penalty."
A call for a moratorium on the death penalty has come from an unlikely source — a Republican proponent of the death penalty.
Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, has proposed legislation that would put an end to all executions in the state of Missouri until 2011. The legislation also calls for a commission on the death penalty to be created in the state to review the implementation of the death penalty in past cases and assess pending death penalty cases.
Deeken said the Missouri Catholic Conference asked him to propose the legislation, even though he is a proponent of the death penalty in some cases.
“I am not against the death penalty. But what I am for is to make sure that any person that is sentenced to death is the right person,” Deeken said.
"Death penalty could be debated," is the headline in the Sioux City Journal reporting that a bill to repeal Nebraska's death penalty.
Whether Nebraska's death penalty should be repealed appears headed for debate by state lawmakers for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee advanced to the full Legislature a bill (LB476) from Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole.
The full Legislature last debated such a measure in 1988.
Chambers, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has introduced bills to repeal it every legislative term for more than 30 years.
In California, the San Francisco Chronicle has, "Bid for public discussion on executions."
The Chronicle and other newspapers urged a federal judge Wednesday to deny Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's request that the state be allowed to keep secret the expert advice it receives and deliberations it undertakes before proposing changes in how it executes prisoners.
Schwarzenegger's suggestion that the state make public only the proposed changes and not the discussions or consultations leading to the revisions would "shut Californians out of the debate over the death penalty,'' attorney Karl Olson said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.
Olson represents The Chronicle's owner, Hearst Corp., as well as the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers, publisher of the Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee and Fresno Bee.
The state is under orders from U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel to revamp its execution procedures and minimize the risk that lethal injection will subject an inmate to a slow and agonizing death.
In Washington state, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has, "Legislators move to limit use of state's death penalty."
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng's decision this week to seek the death penalty in the slaying of a soldier's family has renewed discussion about whether capital punishment is good policy for the state.
While lawmakers say there's no rush to abolish it, House and Senate bills introduced this session in Olympia would attempt to limit its use.
One would ban execution unless DNA evidence, a confession or other sophisticated technology proved guilt. Another, filed in the House on Wednesday, would allow defendants to avoid the death penalty by showing they were mentally impaired.
A third effort would put a moratorium on executions until July 2008 -- though no one appears in danger of being executed before then -- while a task force studies the application of the death penalty in Washington. The House version of the task force bill is set for a Judiciary Committee hearing Friday.
The topic has gained currency since the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's capital punishment law 5-4 last year and invited lawmakers to reconsider the death penalty's fairness in light of Maleng's decision in 2003 to spare the life of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.
A hat tip to the ever watchful Howard Bashman at How Appealing.