We have great sympathy for those whose family members were killed by these four men and no particular sympathy for the murderers themselves. But their cases were subsumed in the larger question of whether Maryland should allow capital punishment at all, and as Mr. O'Malley eloquently argued in his years-long effort to repeal it, the death penalty does not make us safer, is prone to bias in its imposition and can never be made completely error-free in its application. The General Assembly's vote to repeal the death penalty did not directly address the cases of the men on Maryland's death row — at the time, there were five, but one subsequently died of natural causes — but it raised the question of whether the state ever could or would exact the punishment.
Some family members of the victims of Maryland's death row inmates lobbied the governor to leave their sentences in place, for symbolic reasons if nothing else. But his action is ultimately the more humane one where their interests are concerned.
Maryland has lacked the regulatory protocols necessary to carry out the death penalty since a court decision in 2006 invalidated the existing ones. Under those circumstances, outgoing Attorney General
Mr. O'Malley's action cuts that process short and provides a certainty that the victims' families might otherwise have lacked. It was not altogether certain that all of the death row inmates could have been given sentences of life without the possibility of parole, as that penalty did not exist in Maryland law at the time of some of their crimes. Nor was it guaranteed that a judge would be inclined to give it; attorneys for one of the men actually expressed disappointment at the governor's action because they hoped to secure parole for their client. The governor's action settles the matter once and for all.
The fact that Mr. O'Malley took this action in the last three weeks of his term is a reflection more of his rather contradictory views on crime and punishment than it is an example of a lame duck preempting his successor. Gov.-elect