"Sit there every day and think about that. I'm OK about people stewing in their own misery," she said.

Spikes moved to Maryland in 1996 and eventually became active in the movement to repeal the death penalty. She's now a murder victim family coordinator and a lobbyist for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

One of things she likes about this year's repeal legislation is a provision that would divert $500,000 a year that otherwise would be spent on the legal costs of the death penalty. It would be used instead to provide services for murder victims. As expensive as life without parole can be, she said, the death penalty costs more. Legislative analysts put the estimated savings from repeal at $1.3 million a year in the public defender's office alone.

"I'm more proud than I've ever been to stand with this bill this year," she said.

Spikes said the legislation would provide relatives of homicide victims with help she never received after her husband's murder — with funeral expenses, grief counseling and mental health treatment.

Almost two decades after her trip to the morgue, Spikes is a frequent visitor to the men on Maryland's death row. She said she spent time with Wesley Baker, the last man executed in Maryland, on the day of his death in 2005. When he was killed by injection, Spikes said, she was standing outside with his mother.

"I visit the inmates. They all know me, and we fight so we won't have executions anymore," she said.

She is under no illusions about the men she visits. She believes they're still dangerous and should not be free, even though they showed her compassion when they learned about her husband.

Told of Spikes' visits with the inmates on death row, Richardson's reaction was "God bless her."

Spikes said she knows many survivors of murder victims who support the death penalty and understands their position.

"Whatever way you feel, when you've suffered the way you have, you've got a right. Nobody should push you in any direction," she said. "I pray they find peace, and I don't judge."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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