The Maryland Senate voted Wednesday to repeal the death penalty in the state, clearing it for the House where supporters expect it to pass.
The Senate passed the repeal on a 27-20 vote after three days of debate in which the majority Democrats shut down a slew of amendments that would have kept the death penalty in certain circumstances, such as for serial killers or people who murder law enforcement officers.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, has said that he expects voters to petition the repeal to referendum in 2014 and decide the measure's ultimate fate. Miller was one of 10 Democrats to vote to keep the death penalty.
The Senate had amended the bill to remove a money element, because budget bills cannot go before voters in a referendum.
A January poll from Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc., showed that 49 percent of Marylanders favor the death penalty, while 44 percent oppose it. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Maryland has five men on death row, but it hasn't executed anyone since 2005. Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration has refused to put into place protocols that would allow executions to go forward, creating a de facto moratorium.
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, accused O'Malley of mucking up the death penalty and then using the fact that the state wasn't executing convicts as proof that it was broken.
"The fact that we've only used it five times since 1978 and we have five people on death row ... I think it's a testament not that the system's dysfunctional, but that it's working," Pipkin said.
Senators voting on both sides of the repeal used the Bible in explaining their votes.
"Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, God calls those into account who harm other people, and that was by the taking of that criminal's life for the one innocent life that criminal took," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford and Cecil counties.
Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, countered with her own Bible verses: " 'Vengeance is mine,' said the Lord. We are not smart enough to implement the death penalty. He who is without sin cast the first stone."