POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
CSI Comes to Beacon Hill
by David Trumbull
May 6, 2005
Governor Mitt Romney has filed a bill enabling Massachusetts prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases that include terrorism, the assassination of law enforcement officials and multiple killings. The legislation is the first of its kind in the nation in that it calls for corroborating scientific evidence, multiple layers of review and a new “no doubt” standard of proof.
Romney said the proposal is the “gold standard for the death penalty in the modern scientific age.”
“In the past, efforts to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts have failed. They have failed because of concerns that it would be too broadly applied or that evidentiary standards weren’t high enough or proper safeguards weren’t in place. We have answered all those concerns with this bill,” said Romney.
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey noted that Massachusetts is one of only 12 states that do not have a capital punishment sentencing option. “Massachusetts should no longer be in the minority of states when it comes to deterring first-degree murder,” said Healey. “The death penalty should be available for a narrow set of crimes that we all can agree deserve the ultimate punishment.”
Romney’s bill is based on the recommendations of the 11-member Governor’s Council on Capital Punishment, which issued its findings last year.
Specifically, the legislation will allow a jury to impose the death penalty for first-degree murders that were committed as an act of political terrorism or against a law enforcement officer, a judge, a juror, a prosecutor, an attorney or a witness for the purpose of obstructing an ongoing criminal proceeding; that involved prolonged torture or a murder spree; or where the defendant had already been convicted of first-degree murder or was serving a life sentence without parole.
To ensure that only the guilty are put to death, the proposal mandates an unprecedented level of scientific evidence. Before the death penalty can be imposed, conclusive scientific evidence must link the defendant to the crime scene, the murder weapon or the victim’s body.
In addition, an independent scientific review of the physical evidence must be completed before any capital sentence is carried out. This review should ensure that the evidence is collected, handled, evaluated, analyzed, interpreted and preserved according to the highest standards of the medical and scientific community.
“Just as science can free the innocent, it can also identify the guilty,” Romney said.
The Governor’s bill will also establish a first-in-the-nation “no doubt” standard for juries. This means that even after finding the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury may not impose the death penalty if one or more jurors harbor any residual doubt about the defendant’s guilt. If a jury becomes deadlocked and cannot decide whether to impose a death sentence, the court will dismiss the jury and issue a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.