Atty. Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. called Thursday for Maryland to abolish its death penalty, noting systemic flaws and the possibility innocent people could be put to death.
Because of the system's "fallibility," he said, capital punishment could come only at the "intolerable cost of executing, every so often, the wrong person."
Curran said more than 100 people on death rows across the country have been exonerated since the Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate capital punishment in 1976. Curran, a Democrat, outlined his views in a letter sent to Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and other state leaders. He has been a consistent opponent of the death penalty and has argued that it does not deter crime.
Ehrlich, a Republican, has said he will not continue a moratorium on the death penalty imposed by former Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat. Ehrlich has said he will conduct a case-by-case review of death-row pleas for clemency that cross his desk.
An Ehrlich spokeswoman said Thursday that the governor would veto any legislation to abolish the death penalty or restore the moratorium.
"We respect [Curran's] opinion, and we respectfully disagree," spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said.
A recent study by a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, found that race and jurisdiction play significant roles in whether a criminal is sentenced to death in Maryland. Black defendants who kill white victims are statistically more likely to be charged with a capital offense, the study concluded.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue agreed Curran's opinion carries weight, even if it does not directly influence the status of the death penalty.
"He is highly respected," said state Sen. Brian Frosh, the Democratic chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "The guy's got a ton of experience."