Prospective 2016 Democratic presidential contender Gov. Martin O'Malley decided to close out 2014 with an announcement that he would be commuting the death sentences of four Maryland death-row inmates who were in a virtual state of limbo -- eligible for execution but unable to be executed due to the state lacking an appropriate protocol for lethal injections.
Reporting the story in the January 1, 2015 edition, Washington Post staffer John Wagner front-loaded the article with praise for "practicing Catholic" O'Malley's, waiting until the eighth paragraph for the first mention of criticism of the move (emphasis mine):
Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Wednesday cemented his legacy on a defining issue of his tenure, announcing that he would commute the sentences of Maryland’s four remaining death-row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
With the stroke of a pen, O’Malley will soon wipe out the remnants of capital punishment in Maryland, an issue on which he lobbied lawmakers from the outset of his first term in 2007. A practicing Catholic, O’Malley argued that executions are not cost-effective, do not deter murders and are at odds with “our values as a people.”
O’Malley’s decision to commute the death sentences comes nearly two years after he persuaded the legislature to repeal capital punishment and three weeks before he will complete his second, and final, term.
The repeal did not apply to prisoners already on death row, leaving their fate up in the air. In November, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said he believes the state lacks any legal way to execute them, citing an earlier court ruling that invalidated state procedures for administering lethal injections.
“In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future,” O’Malley said in a statement Wednesday.
The abolishment of the death penalty was one of several progressive accomplishments for O’Malley, a potential 2016 White House candidate, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and sweeping gun-control measures.
Randy Piechowicz, a relative of one of the inmates’ victims, said his family “had been hopeful that one day the political climate would change and these sentences would be carried out and justice would be served.”
O’Malley’s decision, he said, “is the bitter end to a most horrible family tragedy.”
The reaction of Mary F. Moore, "whose father and stepmother were slain in 1995" by one of the inmates effected by the commutation told the Post she was "not disappointed" but rather "devastated" by the O'Malley's decision. That quote, however, ended up in paragraph 14 out of the 28-paragraph story. "This man took away from this family people we respected and loved, and we miss them," she added in the following paragraph.
That was quickly followed by criticism of O'Malley from a pro-death penalty prosecutor, States Attorney Scott Shellenberger (D-Baltimore County), who inisted they were "valid sentences" that "should be carried out."
A reporter seeking to give readers a hint of the controversy involved in O'Malley's move would have placed this conflicting opinion much higher up in the story.
A few grafs later, Wagner noted that "longtime death-penalty opponent" State Delegate Samuel I Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) "stressed that none of the death-row inmates would ever be released under the sentence that will be assigned by O'Malley."
Of course, in the very next paragraph, Wagner admitted that a state court judge could "change" one such inmate's death sentence to life WITH the possibilty of parole. That inmate's attorneys are already seeking such in court and have pledge "there likely would be further litigation challenging [O'Malley's] authority" should he commute the sentence from death to life without parole.
Nah, that won't happen, Wagner seemed to retort by noted in the next graf, "[Maryland Attorney General Doug] Gansler said he was confident such a claim would not prevail."
Maybe. Maybe not. But that's far from an ironclad guarantee.
Wagner, as we at NewsBusters have documented, has a long history of shielding Maryland Democrats from bad news and of positively puffing liberal leaders in the state party, including the outgoing governor.