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Maryland moves close to abolishing death penalty

Maryland’s Senate voted Wednesday to repeal the death penalty, moving the state one step closer to joining 17 others that ban capital punishment.

The Senate voted 27-20 to pass legislation that would replace execution with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The bill must be approved by the House of Delegates before becoming law.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said he was pleased with the vote.

"We remain hopeful that we will see a similar outcome in the House," he said in a statement. "It's time to end this ineffective and expensive practice and put our efforts behind crime fighting strategies that work."

Maryland has five inmates on death row, although no executions have been conducted since 2005. The state has carried out five executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

“The vote in the Maryland Senate to end the death penalty is in line with an emerging trend away from capital punishment around the country,” Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “Death sentences and executions have sharply declined, and now states are taking the final step toward eliminating the death penalty.”

Last year, Connecticut lawmakers abolished the death penalty, replacing it with life without parole, but voters in California rejected a law that would have ended capital punishment.

Some states are considering similar legislation, such as Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon and Delaware. The number of people sentenced to death in 2012 – 78 – marked a 75 percent decline from the 315 sentences imposed in 1996, the center said.

Supporters believe it will pass the House, but opponents think the issue will ultimately be decided by popular vote, The Associated Press reported.