Whether you’re for or against it, the death penalty remains a major issue in states that have it, including Maryland. Our state now finds itself teetering on the edge of the debate, poised to consider an abolishment of capital punishment. If it does, it will join a growing list of states that no longer put people to death for committing violent crimes.
Presenting one of the state’s most convincing arguments for abolishment is a Maryland man who spent nine years on death row before he was exonerated. Although the Marine-turned-waterman had no criminal history, he was identified as a suspect in the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl after his neighbor saw a police sketch compiled from witness accounts. It was 1984 — well before the use of DNA testing — and police and prosecutors were under pressure to solve the crime. Despite numerous holes in the case, the man was sent to prison, where he vigorously maintained his innocence and fought for years to clear his name.
In the end, it was DNA testing that exonerated him and led to the real murderer. The wrongly accused man was given $300,000 for the time he spent behind bars, and from there he began fighting for justice for others. He became a speaker and volunteer advocate for people who had been wrongly accused of crimes or failed to receive fair trials. He’s now the advocacy director for a coalition of exonerated death row inmates.
The man continues to play a major role in Maryland’s shift away from capital punishment, which could have a profound impact on many others who have been convicted of violent crimes. Even now, with the prevalence of DNA evidence, people continue to be wrongly convicted and receive sentences that outweigh their involvement in a crime. Those in this situation need assurance that others will continue to fight for their rights, whether they are defense attorneys or advocates who have been in the exact same position.
Source: The New York Times, “A Death Penalty Fight Comes Home,” Scott Shane, Feb. 5, 2013