When the Maryland General Assembly in 2013 abolished the death penalty, it amended certain statutes to accomplish that. This included a provision for the trial judge to hold a hearing, after appropriate notice from the State, to determine whether to impose a sentence for first degree murder of life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It left intact another provision about what may happen if this issue was submitted to a jury that did not impose the death penalty. Maryland’s Court of Appeals has now clarified that it is the trial judge who makes the decision whether to impose life without parole, in a case called Darrell Bellard v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that the case involved a horrendous crime where two women and two children were murdered by being shot in the head. Bellard was a drug dealer from Texas, who admitted to being angry with one of the women. He eventually confessed to the shootings. The prosecution filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, but before the case went to trial the legislature changed the law to abolish death as a possible sentence. The State then filed a notice changing its request to life without parole.