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Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley Commutes Four Death Sentences

The state legislature abolished capital punishment two years ago.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has commuted the death sentences of the state's last four inmates sentenced to execution, two years after the legislature abolished capital punishment. The Democrat, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, said there practically no chance that Jody Lee Miles, Anthony Grandison, Vernon Evans and Heath Burch could have been put to death for their crimes.

“In the final analysis, there is one truth that stands between and before all of us," said O'Malley, a death penalty opponent whose term expires next month.

"That truth is this — few of us would ever wish for our children or grandchildren to kill another human being or to take part in the killing of another human being. The legislature has expressed this truth by abolishing the death penalty in Maryland."

O'Malley reached out to the families of the four men's victims in the weeks leading up to his decision, but he failed to convince at least one of them that commuting the sentences to life without parole was the right thing to do.

"I'm devastated," said Mary Francis Moore, 71, whose father, Robert Davis, and stepmother, Cleo Davis, were stabbed to death with scissors by Burch in 1996.

"I kinda lost a little faith in the judicial system. I don't know how someone can pick up a pen and change the sentencing of someone."

Moore said the odds were long that Maryland, which hasn't had an execution since 2005, would ever kill Burch, but she got some satisfaction out of the knowledge that he was languishing on death row.

"Just having that hanging over him was justice," she said.

"This guy has had people fighting for him for 19 years. Who in the hell is fighting for my family?"

O'Malley said he knew that many of the victims' relatives would have pursued execution if he death penalty was still on the books in the state.

"The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand," he wrote. "In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future."


— Tracy Connor