Bay State Banner
 May 5, 2005

 Black lawmakers rip Romney's death penalty
 By Jeremy Schwab

 As he touted his new "scientific" death penalty bill at the State House
 last week, Governor Mitt Romney assured reporters that the bill would
 virtually eliminate the possibility of wrongful convictions.

 "This is a bill which in the realm of reality is foolproof," he said.
 "Of course, there are always extreme circumstances one could envision."

 Romney did not elaborate on what "extreme circumstances" might cause
 sentencing error, but he cited the safeguards built into his bill.

 The bill calls for concrete evidence such as DNA in order to sentence
 someone to death and a standard of "no doubt" instead of "beyond a
 reasonable doubt" for a jury to sentence a defendant. It also calls for
 certified capital case lawyers to represent defendants.

 Under the bill, the death penalty could apply to those convicted for
 acts of terrorism, multiple murders or murders involving torture. The
 bill would allow the death penalty in cases of murder of an attorney,
 law enforcement officer, judge or juror for the purpose of obstructing
 an ongoing criminal investigation.

 The state's Supreme Judicial Court abolished the death penalty in 1984.

 Many African Americans oppose the death penalty, and critics note that
 capital punishment has disproportionately been used to execute black

 When asked by reporters how his bill would prevent ethnic or racial bias
 in sentencing, Romney again cited some of the bills' safeguards.

 "It applies to a very narrow set of crimes," he said. "Perhaps you would
 only have one or two [cases] in a year. There is a higher standard of
 counsel. There would have to be physical forensic evidence linking them
 with the crime."

 But juries, police officers and others who would investigate, handle and
 weigh evidence in capital cases are still human and have human failings
 such as racial prejudice, said Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.

 "I don't believe it is possible to create an error-proof death penalty,
 because mistakes people make have a lot to do with human emotion," she
 said. "Police are human. People who promulgate and draft our criminal
 justice laws are human. People who witness crimes on the street are all
 human beings who are impacted by the totality of stereotypical messages
 and everything we see and hear that suggests black and brown people have
 this extraordinary propensity to criminal behavior to the exclusion of
 all others."

 State Rep. Gloria Fox, who like Wilkerson and other black legislators
 opposes Romney's proposal, also expressed concerns about the
 impartiality of juries, which would play a significant role in Romney's
 proposed death-penalty process given the "no doubt" requirement.

 "You are going to provide [defendants] with good lawyers for their
 defense, but they are going to likely have an all-white jury," she said.

 Romney asserted that instituting the death penalty for certain crimes
 would act as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

 "I hope people would have a higher degree of concern about taking the
 life of a judge," he said. "I hope it would have a deterrent effect."

 But opponents questioned the efficacy of capital punishment as a

 "[Romney] hasn't been able to provide any statistics that in states that
 have the death penalty it makes a difference," said Fox. "People who
 have testified before our Department of Corrections hearings say it is
 just the opposite. Most crimes are crimes of passion, and not

 Legislators pointed out other perceived holes in Romney's bill. Those
 convicted of the same crime under Romney's bill could face different
 penalties depending on whether there is forensic evidence that meets the
 standards of the bill, noted Wilkerson.

 "DNA-related murders only make up a small percentage of murders," she
 said. "I can't imagine the governor is suggesting we have different
 penalties for people who leave DNA at the scene as opposed to those who

 Rep. Byron Rushing said the bill would misdirect resources that could be
 used in other public safety areas.

 "Even for the people who support the death penalty, the question is why
 would you spend all this time and energy for the small number of people
 who could be prosecuted in the law," he said.

 Democratic legislators say they do not believe Romney's bill will pass.
 A measure to reinstate capital punishment failed in the House in 2001 by
 34 votes.

 Romney's proposal comes as he is rumored to be considering a run for the
 Republican nomination for president in 2008.

 "There's no doubt in my mind this is a grandstand play to give himself
 more momentum for a run for president," said Fox. "There hasn't been an
 outcry for the death penalty in Massachusetts."