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Zirkin Throws Support Behind Death Penalty Repeal

A bill to repeal capital punishment is expected to pass out of a Senate committee with the vote of the Baltimore County Democrat.

The effort to repeal the death penalty in Maryland was stalled by the vote of one Baltimore County Democratic senator but it may pass this year because of another.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin said he will vote in favor of a bill that repeals capital punishment in the state.

"I'm forever torn on this issue, have been and probably always will be," Zirkin said in an interview Thursday. "I'm extremely jealous of people who fall comfortably on one side of the debate or the other."

In the end, Zirkin said he made the decision to vote for repealing capital punishment based on testimony of some victims who said the death penalty provided little closure because of lengthy appeals and that the state hasn't executed anyone in nearly a decade.

Zirkin said the families "suffer an unspeakable pain that continues and continues."

The repeal is one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative priorities for the 2013 Maryland General Assembly session.

Zirkin's decision was first reported Thursday morning by the Washington Post.

In 2009, Zirkin sponsored a bill that tightened requirements on the use of the death penalty by requiring additional evidence including a video-taped confession, video that shows conclusively that the accused murderer committed the crime or DNA evidence.

But Zirkin was not on the Judicial Proceedings Committee at the time and has never had to cast a vote on a repeal bill.

"I was 50-50 on it four years ago," Zirkin said. "This isn't a change [of position]. It's an evolution in my thought."

Part of that evolution involved a look at which jurisdictions use the death penalty. Baltimore County has the reputation for being the most frequent user of capital punishment.

Two of the five remaining inmates on death row were convicted and sentenced in Baltimore County.

"That was one of the pivotal issues for me," Zirkin said. "Only one jurisdiction ever uses it."

In the end, Zirkin said it was not an issue of morality for him.

"I don't have a moral problem executing these monsters," Zirkin said, adding that he wants to "kill these people myself.

"But I have to separate the emotion from the practical legal reality," Zirkin continued. "The practical legal reality of our system is that it is very broken to the point that this hasn't been used in almost a decade."

Zirkin's vote will give death penalty opponents the six votes they need to get the bill out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee . It also means that there are roughly 26 senators who will vote to pass the bill when it comes to the floor next week—two more than required.

The committee is expected to hold a vote Thursday night. The bill is expected to receive a preliminary vote by the middle of next week with a final vote that Friday, according to Sen. Brian Frosh, chairman of the committee.

In previous years, Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat who also represents Baltimore County, was seen as the vote that kept the repeal from moving out of committee. 

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