ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers approved a measure abolishing the death penalty on Friday, and the bill is expected to be signed by the Democratic governor who has long pushed for banning capital punishment in the state.
If the measure is signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, it will make Maryland the 18th state in the nation to do away with the death penalty.
A repeal bill won final passage from the House of Delegates on Friday. It already had been approved by the Senate.
The House advanced the legislation this week after delegates rejected nearly 20 amendments, mostly from Republicans, aimed at keeping capital punishment for the most heinous crimes.
If passed, life without the possibility of parole would be the most severe sentence in the state.
Supporters of repeal argue that the death penalty is costly, error-prone, racially biased and a poor deterrent of crime. But opponents say it is a necessary tool to punish lawbreakers who commit the most egregious crimes.
Maryland has five men on death row. The measure would not apply to them retroactively, but the legislation makes clear that the governor can commute their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The state's last execution took place in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. He resumed executions after a moratorium had been in place pending a 2003 University of Maryland study, which found significant racial and geographic disparity in how the death penalty was carried out.
Capital punishment was put on hold in Maryland after a December 2006 ruling by Maryland's highest court that the state's lethal injection protocols weren't properly approved by a legislative committee. The committee, whose co-chairs oppose capital punishment, has yet to sign off on protocols.
O'Malley, a Catholic, expressed support for repeal legislation in 2007, but it stalled in a Senate committee.