The governor's bill to repeal Maryland's death penalty survived a key vote Friday in the state Senate.
After an emotional debate, senators voted 27-19 to defeat an amendment that would have kept capital punishment for murders committed along with other serious crimes.
"It's an excellent harbinger for us," said Sen.
After the vote, the Senate paused its debate on the bill, which if passed would make Maryland the 18th state to eliminate the death penalty. Senators are expected to resume debate at 8 p.m. Monday, when they are scheduled to work late into the night considering other amendments that opponents are likely to offer.
Supporters of death penalty repeal expressed confidence that they have enough votes to defeat the amendments and win the final Senate vote. They have long contended that they have the votes in the House to pass a repeal bill.
Much of Friday's debate centered on two murders in which the victims were young girls.
Opponents of the death penalty pointed to the killing of 9-year-old Dawn
Bloodsworth, now an activist against the death penalty, watched from the gallery as proponents of repeal pointed to his case as an example of the danger of executing an innocent person.
"With the death penalty, there's no going back. Death is forever," Raskin said.
Supporters of the death penalty recalled the killing of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell of Salisbury in December 2009 — a crime that received statewide attention when a massive search effort led to the discovery of her burned body on Christmas Day. Thomas J. Leggs Jr., a repeat sex offender, was sentenced to life without parole.
"There is evil that walks among us," he said. "We have to leave that option for the worst of the worst."
Maryland has five men on death row — for murders that go back as far as 1983 — but has not executed anyone since 2005. The state has operated under a de facto death penalty moratorium since 2006, when the state's top court struck down the rules under which executions are carried out.
The repeal bill cleared a barrier last week when it was approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee, where similar legislation has failed in the past. Raskin said the committee concluded that the death penalty system is not working. He said prosecutors seek capital punishment in less than half of 1 percent of eligible cases.
"You can say it's being used judiciously and sparingly," Pipkin said.
Pipkin said repeal opponents had not decided whether to mount a filibuster.