Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced Wednesday that he would commute the sentences of the state's four remaining death row prisoners, reverting their convictions to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The outgoing Democratic governor, who has been named as a potential president candidate in 2016, said executing Vernon Evans, Anthony Grandison, Heath Burch and Jody Lee Miles would "not serve the public good of the people of Maryland."
The state's General Assembly abolished the death penalty in 2013—but did not apply that ruling to those already scheduled to be executed. That left four people on death row. However, state Attorney General Doug Gansler said in November that Maryland has no authority to put them to death, as there are no capital punishment statutes in place.
On Wednesday, O'Malley reiterated that stance, but went further as he addressed the moral implications of the issue. "In a representative government, state executions make every citizen a party to a legalized killing as punishment," he said.
"[T]here is one truth that stands between and before all of us," O'Malley added. "That truth is this—few of us would ever wish for our children or grandchildren to kill another human being or to take part in the killing of another human being."
O'Malley said he came to his decision after speaking with relatives of the prisoners' victims. "I am deeply grateful and appreciative of their willingness to speak with me," he said Wednesday. "They have borne their grief bravely along with the additional torment of an un-ending legal process."
"The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand," he concluded. "In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland—present or future."