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The Ultimate Debate: Gov. O'Malley Fronts Push To Repeal Md. Death Penalty

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The matter of life or death is one of the hardest to debate. On the night before the death penalty hearings begin, two women who both lost loved ones to murder want lawmakers to hear their stories.

Mary Bubala tells how their emotional journey has led them to two very different places.

A notorious killer was put to death for the brutal murder of Lois Burton's teenage son.

"I definitely have no problem with the fact that John Thanos was executed," Burton said.

Erricka Bridgeford's little brother was gunned down on the streets of Baltimore. She says the death penalty won't ease her pain.

"It just felt less and less like justice to me," said Bridgeford.

The two families are suffering after loved ones are murdered, but they're left with far different views on the ultimate punishment.

"I think it's only fair that the death penalty be kept and be enforced for those of us that have to suffer through appeal after appeal," Burton said.

In 1990, Lois' 18-year-old son Greg picked up a hitchhiker near Salisbury--that hitchhiker turned out to be John Thanos. Greg begged for his life but Thanos shot him three times, left his body in the woods then drove to Baltimore County--where he killed two more teens.

"I just kill, that's all," Thanos said.

Four years later, Maryland executed him.

"I really don't understand the statements of the inhumane way they have to die. I think my son died a very terrible death," Burton said.

But not all victims' families feel the death penalty is the answer.

"Vengeance is a very dark, painful place," said Bridgeford.

She still remembers the awful moment six years ago when she learned her brother had been shot to death in South Baltimore.

Bridgeford: "I just started praying, and it was the first time in my life when I knew my prayers wouldn't be answered."

Bubala: "Did you feel an eye for an eye?"

Bridgeford: "I did initially, I did."

Bubala: "What made you change your heart?"

Bridgeford: "It was recognizing that the vengeance was more pain and it wasn't honoring who he was at all."

For decades Maryland has struggled with the death penalty. This year brings perhaps the strongest push for repeal yet, with the governor, the NAACP and prominent lawmakers behind it.

"This is a process that can't be fixed. It's broken and it's time to end it," said Sen. Sandy Rosenberg.

Others will fight to keep it, ike Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

"There are some heinous murders that occur that just call out for the death penalty," he said.

Lois Burton wants lawmakers to understand the relief she feels now that her son's killer is dead.

Mary: "Does the execution of John Thanos give you peace?"

Burton: "It gave me peace in the fact that I no longer have to face him anymore. I don't have to look at him. I can go on with my life and remembering my son."

Bridgeford thinks healing can come another way.

Bubala: "Why do you think Maryland would be a better place without the death penalty?"

Bridgeford: "Because we will be honoring who we are at our best even in the midst of pain."

Maryland's last execution was in 2005. Currently there are five men on death row.

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