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Maryland studies repeal of death penalty

No executions have occurred under Martin O’Malley.

No executions have occurred under Martin O’Malley.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Coming off some high-profile wins at the ballot box this month, Governor Martin O’Malley is considering another attempt at repealing the death penalty when lawmakers reconvene in January, aides say.

It is an issue that could add to his progressive legacy. But even if the law remains on the books, advocates on both sides agree that O’Malley, a Democrat, is all but certain to finish his two terms in office without having presided over a single execution of one of the state’s five condemned prisoners.

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That is largely because O’Malley’s administration has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume, nearly six years after Maryland’s highest court halted the use of capital punishment on a technicality.

And there is little reason to believe the governor will do so in his remaining two years, as drug shortages and other factors have complicated the mechanics of lethal injection in other states.

‘‘It’s legislating by inaction,’’ said Senator Joseph M. Getty, a Republican member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and an O’Malley critic. ‘‘I’m among the members of the Maryland General Assembly who would like to see the law followed.’’

O’Malley aides said a decision about whether he will sponsor a death penalty repeal bill will be made in coming weeks. Administration officials responsible for drafting the rules needed for executions to resume offered no timetable for when they might be issued.

‘‘We’re still working on the regulations, still exploring best practices around the country,’’ said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. ‘‘It’s a serious issue, and the department is being extra careful, and that’s obviously taking some time.’’

Maryland is one of 34 states with death penalty laws. Practices across the country have changed since 2005, when Maryland executed its last prisoner, under the watch of Governor Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, and those changes could make a return to capital punishment in the state even more unlikely.

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