MASSACHUSETTS lawmakers are bracing for a battle over capital
Republican Gov. William Weld is pushing legislation this year to
reinstate the death penalty, and he has enough support in the
legislature to make the opposition feel uneasy.
"I think that we who are opposed to the death penalty are going
to have a full-scale fight on our hands," says state Rep. David
According to Governor Weld, the measure is necessary to both
protect society and deter murderers.
"I personally view the death penalty as an appropriate response
to the most serious crimes against society," Weld said at a recent
press conference, "and I think the majority of our citizens in this
state rightly feel that this is the only fitting punishment for
certain types of murder."
It is a contentious issue in a state that hasn't executed anyone
since 1947. Massachusetts previously had a death-penalty law, but
it was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Judicial Court
In recent years, former Gov. Michael Dukakis fended off other
attempts to restore the measure.
Opponents argue that capital punishment is costly, has no effect
on the crime rate, and fails to solve the social problems that
often lead to violence - such as poverty, domestic abuse,
unemployment, and drugs. Supporters say it is the only way to send
a strong message that senseless acts of violence will no longer be
Polls show strong support
Currently, 36 states have death-penalty statutes. And national
polls show strong support for capital punishment. In a Gallup poll
conducted last June, 76 percent of those surveyed favored the death
penalty for people convicted of murder.
But critics point to the possibility of making a mistake and
sentencing an innocent person.
"The greatest argument against death-penalty legislation is that
innocent people are going to be convicted and that means innocent
people are going to be killed," says John Roberts, executive
director of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Weld administration officials argue, however, that the
legislation is so narrowly crafted that it would be virtually
impossible to wrongly sentence someone to death.
The bill, which was orginally filed late last year, involves a
two-step trial process.
If, in the first step, a jury found a defendant guilty of
premeditated, first-degree murder with malice aforethought, or
first-degree murder involving extreme cruelty or atrocity, the
prosecuting attorney, in the second step, could seek to convince
the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the murderer met at least
one of a series of aggravating circumstances including:
* Murder of a police officer or other law-enforcement officer in
the line of duty. …