Published January 14, 2015
A commission appointed by Gov. Mitt Romney (search) in an effort to bring back capital punishment in Massachusetts proposed new legal and scientific safeguards Monday that the panel said would create a nearly foolproof death penalty system.
Romney, a Republican who vowed during his campaign to reinstate the death penalty, embraced the findings. He said his staff would draft legislation soon based on the commission's report.
"I would be happy to stake my own life on the outcome of a process of this nature," the governor said.
The report, featuring 10 proposed reforms, said the recommendations would lay the groundwork for a death-penalty law that is "narrowly tailored and as infallible as humanly possible."
Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984 and has not executed anyone since 1947. GOP governors since then have repeatedly sought to resume executions, but the state Legislature has refused.
The report suggests doing away with the legal standard of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the sentencing phase of a death penalty case and replacing it with a finding of "no doubt."
It also proposes giving defendants in capital cases better lawyers and the opportunity to face two juries, one for the trial and, if convicted, one for sentencing.
And it recommends using science, especially DNA evidence, to corroborate guilt and creating an independent committee to review all scientific evidence in a case.
"The governor wanted us to examine whether science, which has been so helpful in exonerating so many people, could be used in a positive way to make the system work better at the front end," said Joseph Hoffman, law professor at Indiana University and co-chairman of the commission.
The report proposes a short list of offenses that could bring the death penalty, including the killing of a police officer; the killing of certain witnesses; murders involving torture; and terrorism.
Opponents decried the plan as an expensive political maneuver with no proof it would work.
"The fact is every governor will say his system is reliable," said Josh Rubenstein, Northeast regional director for Amnesty International (search). "We have a foolproof system now — we don't execute anyone."
"Any time you have humans involved in the process there's an automatic assumption that it's far from perfect," Travaglini said. "I will be hard-pressed to be convinced that this will be flawless."
"I'll be interested to see what the report suggests in terms of how human beings can so order human affairs that all possibility of error is eliminated," Finneran said.
In November, a University of Massachusetts poll showed that 54 percent of those surveyed favored reinstating the death penalty, while 45 percent were opposed. Sixty-two percent were skeptical Romney could create a foolproof system.
Death penalty supporters came close to restoring capital punishment in 1997, after a 10-year-old boy was abducted from a Cambridge street and killed by two men who later received life sentences. At the time, a death penalty bill passed easily in the Senate but lost by a single vote in the House.