Capital punishment in Maryland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

Capital punishment is a legal form of judicial punishment in the U.S. state of Maryland. It has been in use in the state — or more precisely, its predecessor colony — since June 20, 1638, when two men were hanged for piracy in St. Mary's County. A total of 309 people were executed by a variety of methods from 1638 to June 9, 1961, the last execution before Furman v. Georgia. Since that time, five people have been executed. Executions in Maryland are currently suspended as a result of a court case until the procedures used to perform the execution are approved using the process required by state law.



Up until the second half the 20th century, most executions were by hanging. The exceptions were a soldier shot for desertion, two slaves hanged in chains, and one female slave who was burned at the stake. All hangings were performed in public in the county where the offence took place.

In 1809, the Maryland legislature enacted laws that provided for murder in varying degrees. The mandatory punishment for first-degree murder was given as death. New laws came into force in 1908 which allowed the sentencing judge discretion, giving the option of life imprisonment. Then in 1916, the jury was given the option of deciding if they wished to impose the death penalty during their deliberations. They could now return a sentence of guilty "without capital punishment."

This changed under new state laws in 1922, which required all hangings to be executed at the Metropolitan Transition Center (formerly known as the Maryland State Penitentiary) in Baltimore. It was designed to get rid of "the curious mobs that frequent hangings taking place in the counties of this State, and who attempt to make public affairs of the same." 75 men were hanged on the Penitentiary gallows. Of these, 12 hangings were double hangings and on two occasions triple hangings took place. The first indoor hanging in the state, would come before this time though, with an execution on 3 January 1913 in the Baltimore City Jail, which only had invited guests present.

There is one known instance of a botched execution by hanging. On 30 January 1930, Jack Johnson stood on the trapdoor after being convicted of a double murder. But as he fell through, the rope snapped and he fell to the ground below. He was left badly injured and carried to the top of the gallows on a stretcher. There, a new rope was placed around his neck and he was hanged, supported by a stretcher.

The Maryland government decided in 1955 to change the method of execution to the use of lethal gas in the gas chamber. A total of four men were executed in this fashion. The first was on 28 June 1957. During the 20th century number of convicts were also executed for rape.

Constitutional challenges

After the Furman v. Georgia decision of the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that death penalty statutes were unconstitutionally arbitrary in their application, the Maryland legislature removed all arbitrariness by making death the mandatory punishment for first-degree murder once again. Such laws were found by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional in Woodson v. North Carolina. As such, the Maryland legislature took the route which the Supreme Court had found acceptable in Gregg v. Georgia and introduced bifurcated trials, where the jury first decided guilt and then punishment, mandatory appellate review, and the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances.[1] Further laws changes in 1987 and 1989 excluded juveniles and the mentally retarded from execution.

The first person to be sentenced to death under Maryland's current statute was Richard Danny Tichnell, who was found guilty of murdering Garrett County Sheriff's Deputy David Livengood in 1979. Tichnell's sentence was overturned on appeal, as were two successive death sentences that prosecutors won against him. A fourth jury declined to impose the death penalty, and Tichnell died in 2006 of natural causes while serving a life sentence.

In 1994, the method was changed to lethal injection for persons convicted after March 25, 1994.[1] For person sentenced before 25 March 1994, the condemned is given the choice between the gas chamber and lethal injection. John Thanos was put to death using lethal injection on 16 May 1994. This was the first execution by this method in the state, and was also the first execution in Maryland in over 30 years.

Governor Parris N. Glendening halted executions in Maryland by executive order on 9 May 2002, while a state-ordered University of Maryland, College Park study of capital punishment was conducted.[1] The study eventually concluded that there are racial and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty in the state, but the subsequent governor, Robert Ehrlich, ended the moratorium and resumed executions in 2004.[1]

Administrative law challenge

In 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals in Evans v. Maryland ruled that state executions would be suspended because the manual that spells out the protocol for lethal injections was not adopted using the process required by the state Administrative Procedures Act (APA).[2] The state APA requires state administrative agencies to adopt regulations, which are defined as statements that have general application and are adopted by an agency to detail or carry out a law that the agency administers, using a process that includes a review by the Attorney General, review by a legislative committee, and publication for public notice and comment. The state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services had adopted the manual without following any of these activities. The Court of Appeals noted that the procedures for execution in the manual were clearly regulations, and because they had not been properly adopted, they could not be used until they had been either adopted as required by the APA or the state law was changed.[2] The ruling in Evans, while not significant from an administrative law aspect as it was consistent with state case law, will prevent executions until the agreement is reached regarding both the need for the death penalty and in the method and procedure to be used to carry it out.[3]

The Maryland General Assembly in 2008 has established the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to provide recommendations concerning the application and administration of capital punishment in the state so that they are free from bias and error and achieve fairness and accuracy.[4] Following a series of public hearings, the Commission on November 12, 2008, voted 13-7 to recommend that the General Assembly repeal the capital punishment statutes as carries the real possibility of execution of innocent persons and may be biased against African Americans.[5] The Commission submitted its final report, along with a minority report, to the General Assembly dated December 12, 2008 which "strongly recommends that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland."[6]

Current state law

Only first degree murder is a capital offense in the state of Maryland. Criminal Law § 2-201 of the Annotated Code of Maryland defines murder in the first degree as:

The state's attorney in a case involving a capital punishment eligible crime must give the defendant notice at least thirty days prior to the trial that the death penalty will be sought and the aggravating circumstances that the state will present to the jury.[1]

Under Criminal Law § 2-303, the sentence of death is imposed:

"…by intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate or other similar drug in combination with a chemical paralytic agent."

The lethal injection procedure used in Maryland consists of the anesthetic drug sodium pentothal, followed by the paralytic drug pancuronium bromide, which is also known as Pavulon, and lastly a drug which stops the heart, potassium chloride.[1] The execution is completed when, using an electrocardiogram, a physician declares the convict to be dead.[1]

Unlike most states, Maryland does not offer the condemned a special last meal; instead the prisoner receives whatever food the general prison population is served the day of the convict's death.

As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime[7] or mentally retarded[8] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.

Post-Gregg executions

A total of 5 individuals convicted of murder have been executed by the state of Maryland since 1976. All were executed by lethal injection.

Executed personDate of executionVictim(s)Under Governor
1John Frederick ThanosMay 16, 1994Billy Winebrenner, Gregory Allen Taylor, and Melody PistorioWilliam Donald Schaefer
2Flint Gregory HuntJuly 2, 1997Vincent AdolfoParris Glendening
3Tyrone Delano Gilliam, Jr.November 16, 1998Christine DoerflerParris Glendening
4Steven Howard OkenJune 17, 2004Dawn Marie Garvin, Patricia Hirt, Lori WardRobert Ehrlich
5Wesley Eugene BakerDecember 5, 2005Jane TysonRobert Ehrlich

Current Death Row Inmates

5 men are currently sentenced to death in Maryland who are housed at the North Branch Correctional Institution, a supermax facility located near Cumberland.

InmateDate of crimeVictim(s)
1John Booth-ElMay 20, 1983Rose and Irvin Bronstein
2Vernon Lee EvansApril 28, 1983David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy
3Anthony GrandisonApril 28, 1983David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy
4Heath William BurchMarch 19, 1995Robert and Cleo Davis
5Jody Lee MilesApril 2, 1997Edward J. Atkinson

Lawrence Borchardt, who killed Joseph and Bernice Ohler on November 26, 1998, died in his prison cell on Maryland's death row in March 2007.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Feinberg, Matthew E. (Fall 2007). "The Crime, the Case, the Killer Cocktail: Why Maryland's Capital Punishment Procedure Constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment". University of Baltimore Law Review 37: 79, 90–97. 
  2. ^ a b Evans v. Maryland, 396 Md. 256, 914 A.2d 25 (2006).
  3. ^ Rochvarg, Arnold (Spring 2007). "How Administrative Law Halted the Death Penalty in Maryland". University of Baltimore Law Forum 37: 119, 129–30. 
  4. ^ Chapter 430, Laws 2008, Death Penalty - Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.
  5. ^ Dechter, Gadi; Smitherman, Laura (November 13, 2008). "Repeal of death penalty urged". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment Final Report to the General Assembly, p. 24.
  7. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  8. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)

See also

External links