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  • Gavin Neubauer

The Last Execution in Maryland



On December 30, 1637, a warrant for the arrest of Thomas Smith and Edward Beckler for the criminal acts of “sedition, piracy, and murder.” Their activities in the Chesapeake Bay would lead them to become Maryland’s first-blood long before the inception of its statehood. On June 20, 1638, both Smith and Beckler hung dead in St. Mary’s County. Since that fateful day, 312 people would face execution -- up until 2005. The end of an era spanning over 350 years is significant. The story of the last man to die of capital punishment in Maryland is naturally so.


After a meal of breaded fish, pasta with marinara sauce, green beans, an orange, bread, fruit, punch, and milk, Wesley E. Baker mounts the gurney where his lethal injection will take place. He is one of a dwindling kind of prisoner, that of the executed. Only five men would die after Furman v. Georgia in 1972 reinstated the death penalty as constitutional. The pace greatly slowed down and the institution as a whole faced both external and internal scrutiny. One report to the Maryland General Assembly from 2008 calls into question racial bias in the system, ultimately suggesting the abolition of the death penalty. There always lingers the question of when the verdict is incorrect, or when the State’s laws lose favorability. Neither of these points has a resolution because of the finality of capital punishment; one then must live with the burden of execution at whatever standard the law carried it out with.


Wesley E. Baker was the last man to be executed, and by the facts of the case, he was not haphazardly put there. His fingerprints were found on the weapon, and evidence was abundant and conclusive. In 1991, he did murder a woman who was a mother and grandmother. It was an ugly case of murder, so the state responded with a rare death sentence. Although the argument against the death penalty today hinges largely on false sentences and exoneration undermining the institution, it is important to remember that the death of a guilty man shook the State of Maryland. It didn’t take a martyr. Instead, the system was carried out in the way it intended to, and that still bothered the public. On May 2, 2013, Maryland abolished the death penalty, although not retroactively. On December 31, 2014, Governor O’Malley announced that all remaining death sentences would be commuted to life without parole, and so the era of capital punishment ended in Maryland. With modern politics, it seems increasingly unlikely that another death will occur in Maryland under capital punishment, meaning the last is likely to stand. The lessons learned from the last man to be executed are cut at the heart of capital punishment. Who deserves to die? If it was even a guilty man, why do we carry out justice in this way? The scrutiny ultimately led to the collapse of capital punishment in this state.

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