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Following the example set by Illinois two years ago, Gov. Parris Glendening on Thursday suspended all executions in Maryland while a study is done on whether the death penalty is meted out in a racially discriminatory way. Glendening, a Democrat who is barred from seeking a third term this fall, blocked next week’s lethal injection of 44-year-old Wesley Baker and said he would stay any other executions that come before him in his eight months left in office. The governor repeated his support for the death penalty for especially heinous crimes, but said “reasonable questions have been raised in Maryland and across the country about the application of the death penalty.” “It is imperative that I, as well as our citizens, have complete confidence that the legal process involved in capital cases is fair and impartial,” he said. Illinois is the only other death penalty state to impose a moratorium on executions. The study is expected to be completed in September and will then be reviewed by state lawmakers. Glendening said he expects the moratorium to remain in place for about a year. However, the next governor is free to resume executions upon taking office in January. Nine of the 13 men on Maryland’s death row are black, and many of the victims were white. Glendening also noted that nine of the men on death row were convicted in suburban Baltimore County, and said: “Use of the death penalty ought not to be a lottery of geography.” The governor’s office said five men, including Baker, could have faced execution before Glendening’s term ends. Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is running for governor and supports the death penalty in some cases, had asked Glendening to impose the moratorium. The governor said Townsend’s request was not a significant factor in his decision. About 3,700 people are on death row for crimes committed in the 38 states with the death penalty. Critics contend the death penalty is more likely to be imposed if the defendant is black and the victim white. Baker, who is black, was convicted of killing a 49-year-old white grandmother at a shopping center in 1991. Baker has not denied taking part in the attempted robbery, but his lawyers say there is not enough evidence to show he fired the gun. A co-defendant was sentenced to life in prison. In his 7 1/2 years in office, Glendening has allowed the executions of two men and commuted the sentence of a third, two years ago, saying he was not absolutely certain of the man’s guilt. The governor commissioned the death penalty study two years ago because of concerns that blacks were unfairly being singled out for death sentences. The study is being done by Ray Paternoster, a criminologist at the University of Maryland. He and seven doctoral students are reviewing about 6,000 criminal cases dating to 1978 where prosecutors could have sought the death penalty. Maryland reinstated capital punishment in 1978. In a study of South Carolina, Paternoster concluded that a key factor in death sentences there was the race of the victim. In Maryland, Paternoster said he hopes to determine what motivates prosecutors to pursue death sentences and juries to impose them. He declined to comment on the moratorium. Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared the nation’s first moratorium on the death penalty in 2000, citing the release of 13 death row inmates who were found to have been unfairly convicted. Last month, a commission appointed by Ryan recommended reforms to reduce the possibility of wrongful convictions, including cutting the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty and videotaping police interrogations. Montgomery County, Md., prosecutor Doug Gansler, who rarely presses for a death sentence, predicted the Maryland study will not find significant racial bias and said the death penalty should remain the law since life without parole is also an option for prosecutors. “Either way, the convicted murderer is coming out of prison in a box,” Gansler said. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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