2/24/2013 – Discussion on Death Penalty Reform in Maryland

On February 24, 2013, Sam Stayton and Bob Rhudy led a discussion at Patapsco about the Death Penalty.  Sam prepared a short brief, which is shared below.  On March 8, Sam further shared that “the chances are very good that repeal will be approved by the General Assembly and the Governor.   The biggest hurdle so far has been the Senate, which finally passed the bill.  The final challenge is approval of appeal by referendum  That is still very iffy.  A referendum in California rejected repeal.  Voters in Maryland still favor keeping capital punishment.  We need to change the minds of voters supporting the death penalty.”

Other resources include:

(With a Focus on Quakers)

by Sam Stayton

Quakers were among the first to object to the death penalty.  One Friend, John Bellers, (1654-1725), states:

“If a Man had a child, or near Relation, that should fall into a capital Crime, he would use all his influence to preserve his Life, how much soever he abhorred his Fact, in hopes that he might grow to live better, especially if he could have such a power of confinement upon him as might prevent his acting such Enormities for the future.”  (The Quaker Reader, p. 238 )

      In 1817 there were Quakers advocating for death penalty repeal with members the English Parliament – Joseph John Gurney, father of the Gurneyites (later Friends United Meeting,) and his sister Elizabeth Fry, the famous reformer of conditions within prisons.  Also working  with Gurney was William Wilberforce, a well-known Methodist evangelist minister in England,  Obviously that was only a start because full repeal in England did not occur until 1973.  Elizabeth Fry was instrumental in doing away with public hangings in England in the 19th century.  These were then performed within the prisons instead.

Some states in the U.S. repealed capital punishment around the first of the 20th century.  Perhaps  Iowa was the first.  The repeal movement slowed down during  the two world wars but has grown in recent years.  Now 20 states have no death penalty.  Connecticut and Delaware have been the most recent. Most of today’s most advanced countries do not have the death penalty.  No country with such is allowed to join the European  Union.

Amount of action for repeal by Quakers in the 20th century is not known.  AFSC has been involved and for a time there was a group dedicated to repeal.  Quakers at Patapsco began advocating in 2003 or 2004.  Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee wrote a letter that the Business Meeting sent to the state physicians society,  asking that anesthesiologists (the ones who pronounce death at executions) be required to desist from this practice.  We have demonstrated in front of the Supermax prison in Baltimore in 2005, when the last person in Maryland was executed.  We testified at the Governors Commission On Capital Punishment in 2008.  We have connected with other groups working for repeal and have advocated with members of the Maryland General Assembly.  Catholics, Episcopalians, and United Methodists have been strong supporters of repeal, and there are secular groups working for repeal, e.g.  Citizens Against State Executions (CASE)ACLU, Amnesty International, and recently the NAACP, whose national director spoke at the Maryland Senate hearing that on February 19, 2013 recommended repeal and has sent it to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.

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