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Maryland step closer to abolishing death penalty

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers approved a measure abolishing the death penalty on Friday, and the bill is expected to be signed by the Democratic governor who has long pushed for banning capital punishment in the state.

If the measure is signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, it will make Maryland the 18th state in the nation to do away with the death penalty.

A repeal bill won final passage from the House of Delegates on Friday. It has been approved by the Senate.

The House advanced the legislation this week after delegates rejected nearly 20 amendments, mostly from Republicans, aimed at keeping capital punishment for the most heinous crimes.

If passed, life without the possibility of parole would become the most severe sentence in the state.

Supporters of repeal argue that the death penalty is costly, error-prone, racially biased and a poor deterrent of crime. But opponents say it is a necessary tool to punish lawbreakers who commit the most egregious crimes.

Maryland has five men on death row. The measure would not apply to them retroactively, but the legislation makes clear that the governor can commute their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The state's last execution occurred in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

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