Expressing confidence that "the will is there" in the General Assembly to do away with capital punishment, Gov. Martin O'Malley predicted Tuesday that Maryland voters would uphold a decision to repeal the death penalty.
As expected, O'Malley announced at an Annapolis news conference that his administration would sponsor legislation to abolish death sentences in the state.
Appearing with the national president of the NAACP and dozens of legislative co-sponsors, O'Malley predicted that this will be the year the General Assembly puts an end to capital punishment.
"It would seem to me that especially in tough times, if there's something we're doing in our government ... that is expensive and does not work, we should stop doing it," he said.
By putting death penalty repeal on his legislative agenda for the first time since 2009 — when he had to settle for a compromise that left capital punishment on the books — O'Malley signaled not just a willingness to push for its passage but also a confidence that he has lined up enough votes to win.
"I believe there is the will in the Senate. I believe there is the will in the House," he said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a supporter of the death penalty, said Tuesday that he, too, believes there are enough votes to pass a repeal measure in the Senate. Though he said he would prefer to see the use of the death penalty expanded, Miller has expressed his intention to allow a vote of the full Senate on repeal.
"I think we'll have the votes to shut off debate if there's a filibuster," Miller said. The Senate president repeated his prediction that if a repeal bill passes, it would be petitioned to a referendum that would appear on the 2014 ballot.
O'Malley expressed optimism that if faced with the decision, voters would uphold the legislature. "I don't fear the judgment of the people of Maryland," he said.
Speakers at Monday's announcement, including O'Malley, invoked the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an announcement held on the civil rights leader's birthday. The governor was joined at the news conference by NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike' Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker Jr.
Jealous said winning repeal is a step in the NAACP's goal of eliminating capital punishment nationwide. He said that when more than half the states have abolished executions, the group can press the Supreme Court to rule that the death penalty is "cruel" and "unusual" — language used in the Eighth Amendment to describe which punishments are prohibited.
"That's how we get from Maryland to Georgia. That's how we get from Maryland to Texas and Mississippi," Jealous told the crowd in the Senate Judicial Proceedings hearing room.
Outside the room one of the committee members, Baltimore County Democratic Sen. James Brochin, vowed to fight death penalty repeal — even if it meant joining Republicans in a filibuster.
Brochin said the death penalty works well for prosecutors who use the threat of seeking capital punishment to get defendants to accept sentences of life without parole.
"Even if it's rarely used, it has to be on the books so it's a bargaining tool to make sure the worst of the worst never walks the streets again," he said.