BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The state of Maryland will no longer execute criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes.

Governor Martin O’Malley officially signed the death penalty repeal into law Thursday morning.

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Derek Valcourt explains the Catholic Church is celebrating.

The Catholic Church is among several groups who supported repealing the death penalty. Now, lights inside and out the Basilica in Baltimore will stay on overnight in honor of the historic repeal.

With a few strokes of the pen, Maryland becomes the 18th state to abolish the death penalty. It’s mission accomplished for one of Governor O’Malley’s priorities.

“We have a responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful and ineffective,” the governor said.

But the repeal was no easy task.

For years, protesters called on lawmakers to repeal, calls that grew louder after a 2002 study that found wide racial disparities in Maryland’s death penalty. But for the last few years, bills to abolish never made it out of a key legislative committee.

Until this year, when lobbying efforts by groups like the NAACP helped ensure the votes were there.

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“This is a big day where we get to reset and get back to having our justice system be about just that–justice,” said Benjamin Jealous, NAACP.

Among dozens there for the bill signing, Kirk Bloodsworth, who spent years campaigning for its repeal. He was released from Maryland’s death row in 1993, after DNA evidence proved he was wrongly convicted.

“Man, I killed the thing that almost killed me. Nobody will ever have to suffer from this thing again. Nobody will die in this state, especially an innocent person,” said Bloodsworth.

Death penalty supporters could still try to collect the needed signatures to put the issue to voter referendum, but that doesn’t worry one of the repeal’s champions.

“We’ll win. If it goes on referendum, that’s their constitutional right. But we’ll win the referendum,” said Del. Sandy Rosenburg.

The death penalty repeal does not affect the five inmates currently still on Maryland’s death row.

Governor O’Malley has indicated he will consider on a case-by-case basis whether to change their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. will be holding a news conference Friday at 11:30 a.m. to determine if the repeal will go to referendum.

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Maryland’s last execution was in 2005.