“Moral, humane and practical” is how The Baltimore Sun described the ending of the death sentence in Maryland by outgoing governor, Irish American Martin O’Malley.
O’Malley, as almost his last act in office, commuted the sentences of the four remaining death sentence offenders to life without parole.
O'Malley, a possible Democratic presidential contender against Hillary Clinton, was obviously looking at a political dimension, but his own record of pondering moral issues and the impact of his deep Catholic faith obviously played the major role.
It was the right thing to both symbolically and politically. it sends a powerful message that the days of the death penalty are numbered not just in Maryland but across the United States.
Fact is the death penalty does not act as a deterrent, that it is used overwhelmingly against minority offenders and that it is riddled with false convictions as well as butchered death penalty procedures.
The South still has the highest murder rates in the union and the three top states that apply the penalty, Texas, Missouri and Florida.
Race is a huge determining factor in death penalty cases. There is an incredible 97 percent more likelihood of a death sentence if victim is white rather than black.
Want more facts? Since 1973 140 innocent death penalty recipients have been released from prison while 43 percent of those on Death Row are black, far more than their numbers in society.
The Catholic Church among others has rallied strongly against the death penalty. Other churches now are following.
We Irish should also look to our history. The largest federal execution in history was carried out in the 1870s by the U.S. on the Molly Maguires, the Irish pro-union group in the dreadful coal mines of Pennsylvania. Twenty were executed by the federal government in one of the most unfair trials in history.
The men were railroaded by the mine bosses. One, the king of the Molly Maguires John Kehoe, was exonerated and pardoned 101 years later -- all others were likely innocent too.
What took place back then, according to historian Harold Aurand, was "one of the most astounding surrenders of sovereignty in American history. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency; a private police force arrested the alleged offenders; the coal company attorneys prosecuted them. The state only provided the courtroom and hangman."
As a keen student of Irish American history, O'Malley is no doubt familiar with what happened to the Molly Maguires. Their voices would resonate down to the present day. They would say the death penalty is unfair and uncivilized and has no place in America.
Let us hope the public continues to see it this way. The latest opinion poll shows only 33 percent in favor of the death penalty and 66 percent preferring life in prison without parole.
O’Malley’s decision has led the way. Let others follow.