ANNAPOLIS - For some lawmakers, it was a matter of personal convictions and faith. For others, it was a matter of justice and protecting the innocent. But, at the end of the House session on Friday, the death penalty was repealed in Maryland by a vote of 82-56.
"This is one of the hardest votes I'll ever cast," Del. Mike Smigiel, R-36-Cecil, who voted to keep the death penalty said. "I have some grave concerns with the state ever having the power to put people to death."
But Smigiel said the concerns over the state putting people to death must be weighed against the families and the innocent victims of heinous crimes getting justice for the crime committed.
He said currently, since the death penalty isn't actively used in Maryland, the punishment is used as a plea bargaining technique to keep the worst of the worst, those who kill others, off the streets and in jail to serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
"Why should we take that tool from the box?" Smigiel said. "When you remove it (death penalty), then they will face life without parole and life with parole, and they'll end up with parole. They'll have the ability to walk among us one day."
Smigiel said the death penalty repeal is trying to fix a system that isn't broken, as there needs to be DNA evidence and a video recording of either the crime or confession for a jury to sentence someone to the death penalty, among other provisions that make it harder for a jury to sentence a person to death in the state.
Also, Gov. Martin O'Malley has the authority to reduce any inmate's sentence on death row, but hasn't, according to Smigiel.
Some lawmakers who supported repealing the death penalty on Friday said on the House floor that the death penalty should be repealed to avoid putting innocent people wrongly convicted of a terrible crime to death.
"Taking this historic step is long overdue, because capital punishment is a uniquely severe and irreversible component of our legal system that neither deters crime nor guarantees justice," Del. Heather Mizeur, D-20-Montgomery, said. "It does not make us safer, does not save us money and is unevenly applied."
Mizeur said life in prison without parole is a more fair approach. She said it assures that punishment is issued, and not vengeance.
She said the state shouldn't have the power to kill someone.
"By willfully taking human life, the state imitates the worst of human impulses," Mizeur said. "Ending this unworkable, immoral, failed aspect of our justice system is the right thing to do."
Del. Steve Hershey, R-26-Queen Anne's, said the vote weighed heavily on him from a moral perspective in regard to the true value placed on life.
But still, Hershey said though he struggled with voting on the death penalty repeal on a personal level, he must keep in mind that he's been sent to Annapolis as a representative of the people from his district, which is why he voted to keep the death penalty.
"We represent people, not a party, an ideology or even a theology," Hershey said. "Today, I will act as that conduit for the people in my district that elected me to represent them. Tomorrow, I will wake up, god willing, my faith will be intact and life will go on."
The passed legislation goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2013.