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Maryland lawmakers vote to repeal death penalty

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers approved a measure abolishing the death penalty on Friday and sent the bill to Governor Martin O’Malley, who has long supported banning capital punishment.

The House of Delegates voted, 82 to 56, for legislation already approved by the Senate. Eighty Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill, which needed 71 votes to pass. Eighteen Democrats joined 38 Republicans to vote against it.

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The vote represented a major win for the Democratic governor, who has pushed for the death penalty’s repeal for five years. He is also widely believed to be weighing a presidential bid in 2016.

‘‘We have a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful and do not work and that I would argue run contrary to the deeper principles that unite us as Marylanders,’’ O’Malley said, flanked by a group of death penalty opponents, including Benjamin Jealous, the NAACP president.

Under the bill, life without the possibility of parole would be the most severe sentence in the state.

Supporters of repeal argued that the death penalty is costly, racially biased, a poor deterrent of crime, and sometimes wrongfully applied. The possibility of executing the innocent prompted many lawmakers to support the repeal measure.

‘‘I can live with putting to death criminals who committed what are truly grievous and wicked acts against our children, our police, our mothers, and our daughters,’’ Delegate Luiz Simmons, Democrat of Montgomery, said on the House floor, ‘‘but what I am opposed to and what I can no longer live with is using the death penalty to accidently put to death an innocent man or woman.’’

Opponents insisted capital punishment was necessary in punishing those who commit the most egregious crimes.

‘‘This bill is wrong-spirited,’’ said Delegate Michael McDermott, an Eastern Shore Republican. ‘‘It’s a shame that we will not allow future generations to have the option of putting the absolute worst of the worst to death.’’

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

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