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Romney, Detractors Square Off over "Gold Standard" Death Bill
By Jim O’Sullivan for the State House News Service
       Governor Mitt Romney argued Thursday for a death penalty bill he said could serve as a national model, narrowing the language in previous bills to confine capital cases to a “no doubt” standard for specific types of murder, with an emphasis on scientific evidence that would eliminate uncertainty.
       “This is as foolproof a death penalty as exists and you will not have false convictions, false convictions and false executions under this. This won’t happen,” Romney said during a day of testimony on whether or not to restore capital punishment in Massachusetts.
       “I would have complete confidence in any judgments that resulted following the enactment of this legislation,” Romney said, although he said he could not offer a “100 percent guarantee” that no wrongful executions would ever take place under such a law.
       Death penalty opponents said the bill contains technical flaws that could lead to procedural problems, would fail to act as a deterrent to would-be murderers, and does not address racial and economic disparities in the application of death sentences.
       “There is no way that you can scientifically apply the death penalty,” said former Gov. Michael Dukakis during his testimony before the joint Judiciary Committee.
“What bothers me about this is in my judgment it’s a diversion from the real problems … in the criminal justice system and law enforcement,” Dukakis said. He cited to statistics revealing that, of the 400 inmates released each month in the City of Boston, 60 percent lack post-incarceration supervision. He said the administration should devote more resources to local aid, which helps fund municipalities’ police forces.
       Romney’s proposal, which skeptics say is spurred in part by his interest in burnishing the conservative bona fides he would need in a bid for national office, would call for the death penalty only in cases of terrorism, the killing of law enforcement personnel, multiple murders, or slayings that involved torture. A committee of nationally recognized experts advised Romney in designing the measure, and he insisted it would lead to a “high 99.9 percent” guarantee that no innocent convicts would be executed.
       The governor admitted that lawmakers in the traditionally liberal state Legislature, where capital punishment proponents were defeated in 2001 by a wide margin after losing by a single vote in 1997, were unlikely to back his plan.
       “I don’t have any particular reason to think there’s more support for death penalty legislation in Massachusetts today than there was in the past,” Romney told reporters following his testimony. “I made a promise that we’d put forward a very solid death penalty bill. This death penalty bill is the best in the nation. This is the model, the gold standard, if you’re going to consider the ultimate punishment. And it’s my hope that legislators will look at this in that light and say, ‘You know what, the people of Massachusetts deserve to have this level of protection.’ And I’m going to fight for it and hopefully people will react on that basis.”
       Romney conceded that many people oppose capital punishment on principle, and said he had “no argument” with that.
       Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, making it one of 12 states without capital punishment. But public sentiment appears to side with Romney; a May News Service poll showed 65 percent in favor of the measure, with 33 percent opposed. In 2003, a six-hour hearing drew only testimony in opposition.
One opponent in Gardner Auditorium to testify Thursday, where the crowd and testifiers were largely anti-death penalty, was David Kaczynski, who turned in his brother the Unabomber in 1996 after three killings and 23 bombings. Kaczynski said people could be discouraged from telling police about family members they thought may be guilty but did not want to see die.
       “It might deter family members from coming forward and helping these problems to be solved,” Kaczynski said, adding that family members of both perpetrators and victims endure years of prolonged appeals and procedures in capital punishment trials.
       “It’s impossible to create a foolproof criminal justice system that has seen so many exonerations of innocent people,” Kaczynski said, speaking with reporters before his testimony. “No one yet has found a system that can be applied evenly and fairly. Bias, racial discrimination, mental illness all affect who gets the death penalty, who doesn’t.”
       Gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick testified in opposition as well, citing his experience as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s death penalty project in the 1980s. Patrick helped argue successfully for a stay of execution for a man who had already been served his last meal. A sworn statement later in the prosecutor’s file positively identified another man as the perpetrator, Patrick said.

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