Md. Can Seek Death Penalty for Sniper

Maryland prosecutors can seek the death penalty for the sniper despite an existing state moratorium on executing Death Row convicts, officials said Thursday.

"They can be given the death penalty, absolutely," said Chuck Porcari, spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening. "There is a temporary moratorium on the executions, not on the death penalty … they can absolutely be prosecuted and given the death penalty -- no question."

Maryland's moratorium currently affects only three or four people in the state currently on death row, Porcari said. But the moratorium would not prevent a jury from sentencing a killer to death, officials said.

Thirty-eight states currently have a death penalty. But some of those states -- Maryland among them -- have ordered moratoriums on executions in recent years because of various concerns.

The Maryland moratorium is in place while University of Maryland criminology professor Ray Paternoster prepares a report, commissioned by Glendening in 2000, analyzing the application of the state's death penalty. Paternoster has until Dec. 31 to complete the study, which will then be turned over to Maryland lawmakers for review.

But the moratorium "is pretty much unofficial," Paternoster told on Thursday. "It could be lifted … there's nothing preventing the state from sentencing them to death."

State attorney Douglas Gansler believes he can more easily argue a case for the death penalty than a Virginia jurisdiction, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, because six people were killed in Montgomery County.

"We have every intention to seek the death penalty," he said.

The capital punishment issue has fanned the flames of Maryland political debate in recent years.

Lieutenant governor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend supports the death penalty, in limited cases. Her opponent, Republican Robert Ehrlich, said this summer that if elected, he would repeal the moratorium and establish an executive review process to evaluate every death penalty sentence.