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May 1, 2014

Cocktails, Needles, Legalities

Harry M. Covert

Nine years have elapsed since Maryland used lethal injection to complete a death penalty case. Future capital cases are unlikely.


There may be exceptions to the ban. When the death penalty was ended a year ago tomorrow, May 2, there were five men on the state’s death row.


When the current governor signed the law, the remaining four killers were not “grandfathered in.” Technically they are still eligible for the ultimate price. Is anybody counting the days, though?


The death house is located at North Branch Correctional Institution, Cumberland, where four murderers await their arrival to eternity. Their names and their victims will not be mentioned here. For sure, their remaining days and hours won’t be in nice country accommodations.


One of the five convicted and doomed murderers succumbed to natural causes recently. He was found dead in his cell.


The last person executed was Wesley Eugene Baker, 47, of Baltimore. He brutally killed a Catonsville woman. He was allowed a last meal of breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread and milk.


If and when new situations arise in western Maryland, the candidates will only be afforded a last meal of whatever the general prison population is served that day.


To the present, 314 murderers have been executed in Maryland since June 20, 1638.


Without doubt there are mean people out there who commit heinous crimes and don’t care.


Describing injections as cocktails is improper. Apparently, recent doses haven’t worked well. The latest was in Oklahoma.


The matter of capital punishment, executions, needling is getting back into the public conversation.


Responding to a prominent lawyer’s query asking how I felt about executions, I said “I vacillate with good reason.”


Times are when vicious killers, those akin to the Beltway Snipers; Boston Marathon terrorists; other bombers; and similar others, must face the ominous moment of paying the price. There are others, too.


Times are when circumstances warrant lifetime in jail.


One of the Beltway Snipers is living out his life in a mountain side maximum prison cell the size about eight-foot by 11 feet or so. No interaction with other humans except guards. These officers are serious all the time. Death may be better for him.


It is easy to say “hang him,” “shoot him,” “give him a necktie party.” In reality, carrying out extreme unction in public is distasteful to say the least, particularly in the United States.


While obviously tough on the perpetrator, such sentences are difficult on the judge, the prosecutor, a jury, defense attorneys and families.


Don’t think for a moment that those who agree to be witnesses to legal executions are affected by what they see. Usually, families, police officers and journalists are invited to watch.


The questions come about last words, did he or she wiggle or struggle with prison officials, how bad was the scene?


I can be persuaded some people should face capital punishment.


I just don’t want to watch.


I don’t want to read sweet words to them en route from cell to the death chamber.


I don’t want to act like a big shot and grin when the physician or warden says “He’s dead.”


I don’t want to give a public report on the “news event.”


I don’t want to seem like a wimp or weak-kneed. Honestly, the day came years ago in Virginia. Corrections officials invited various people to be witnesses, including numerous journalists. I didn’t hem and haw. I declined. So did a fellow reporter who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March.


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