Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley accepted the Mario Cuomo Acts of Courage Award from Death Penalty Focus at its awards dinner Tuesday night in Beverly Hills, CA, for sponsoring a bill repealing capital punishment.
"We led with the truth that the death penalty doesn't work, but we also led with things that do work," O'Malley said at the dinner at The Beverly Hilton.
O'Malley "displayed true leadership by not only signing the legislation, but making death penalty repeal a top legislative priority," Chelsea Bond, program director of Death Penalty Focus, said before the dinner.
"Taking a stand against the death penalty is no longer the political third rail it once was, as politicians see now that ending the death penalty is a common-sense solution that saves money, protects innocent people from being executed, and upholds human rights," Bond said.
"However, it still requires leadership to change a long-established law. The national trend away from the death penalty would not be possible without the bold leadership of elected representatives like Governor O'Malley."
O'Malley's opposition to the death penalty drew criticism earlier this week from Maryland Delegate John W.E. Cluster Jr., R-Baltimore County, who called it a deterrent to murder, citing the sharply lower murder rates in Baltimore County, where prosecutors seek the death penalty, than in adjacent Baltimore, where they do not.
Cluster, a former police officer, sponsored an amendment to the bill to keep the death penalty for murdering a police officer while he or she was performing his duties and supported an amendment keeping the death penalty when an inmate kills a correctional officer.
"There's nothing deterring these prisoners from killing correctional officers," Cluster told City News Service in a telephone interview. "What are they going to get? Another life sentence? They've already got a life sentence."
O'Malley has said he is looking at the possibility of running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Death Penalty Focus describes itself as one of the world's largest organizations solely dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty.
The award is named for the former New York governor who vetoed multiple bills seeking to reinstate the death penalty "when it was politically unpopular to oppose the death penalty," and "refused to back down from his stance" when "opponents tried to use his opposition to the death penalty against him during campaigns," Bond said.
Cuomo was the first recipient of the award in 1996.
--City News Service