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Study Showed Death Penalty in Maryland is Racially and Geographically Biased, But State is Set to Execute Second Under Ehrlich

          Maryland's lethal injection of Steven Oken was one of 59 executions carried out in 2004 by just 12 of the 38 states with a death penalty on the books, according to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report released today.

            Last year saw six fewer executions overall than 2003, the lowest number since 1996 when 45 prisoners were put to death.

            The spectrum of state executions ranged from one each in Maryland and Arkansas to 23 in Texas.

            Ohio followed Texas, but not closely, putting seven inmates to death. It was followed by Oklahoma, six; Virginia, five; North Carolina and South Carolina, four each; and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Nevada, two each.

            The report comes as the state is poised to execute the second inmate under Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration.

            The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, but the practice was reinstated in 1976 after revisions. Since 1977, 944 inmates have been executed by 32 states, and the death penalty has been a source of passionate controversy throughout the country, the report said.

            Maryland reinstated capital punishment in 1978, but in 2002 Gov. Parris Glendening put a moratorium on the death penalty.

            One of Ehrlich's first moves after taking office in 2003 was to lift the moratorium, despite a University of Maryland study, released just weeks before, which demonstrated Maryland's death penalty was biased racially and geographically.

            That paved the way for Oken's execution for the 1987 rape and murder of 20-year-old newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin of White Marsh. He was also convicted of killing another Maryland woman and a Maine woman during the same spree.

            Oken was the fourth inmate to be executed in Maryland since 1978.

            The study, commissioned by Glendening during the moratorium, showed that Baltimore County courts, where Oken, who is white, was tried, were turning out death sentences at a much higher rate than other jurisdictions and were far more likely to ensure that those sentences were not later withdrawn.

            The study also found that black killers with white victims are more likely to receive the death penalty than others who commit similar murders, and their sentences are more likely to stick.

            At the end of 2004, Maryland's death row was home to nine prisoners awaiting execution -- three white and the rest black.

            The study fueled controversy, with many opponents arguing that executions should be suspended until it could be ensured that the state's death penalty is unbiased.

  

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