Friday, May 13, 2005 Poll: Backing is strong for death penalty By Erik Arvidson, Eagle Boston Bureau BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney appears to have strong backing among voters for his proposal to reinstate a "foolproof" death penalty system in Massachusetts, according to a poll released yesterday. In a survey of 400 Massachusetts residents, sponsored by the State House News Service and conducted by KRC Communications Research, 65 percent of the respondents said they support Romney's proposal, while some 32 percent opposed it. KRC Communications pollster Gerry Chervinsky said the new poll shows resident support moving the standard for capital cases from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "no doubt." "Traditionally, a majority of Massachusetts residents has been supportive of the death penalty. So it's no surprise that this poll would show a majority supporting it," Chervinsky said. "The only surprise could be in the margin, which is a 32-point spread." He added, "The concept of guilty with no doubt, that really resonates with people. No one has ever talked about 'guilty with no doubt.' There has always been "beyond a reasonable doubt.' " The poll -- conducted between May 4 and May 6 and having a 4.8 percent margin for error -- specifically asked residents about Romney's plan to require that irrefutable scientific evidence be the standard of proof of capital cases. Romney's bill would allow the state to execute people convicted of crimes such as terrorism, murder involving torture and murder of a police officer. The death penalty could not be imposed if even a single juror had a "residual or lingering doubt" about whether a defendant was guilty, even if he or she felt the evidence was "beyond a reasonable doubt." But many state lawmakers who oppose the death penalty say that they will not be swayed by this poll or by recent assertions by Romney that an overwhelming majority of people would approve a death penalty for certain heinous crimes. State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, an opponent of the death penalty, said that every poll he has seen shows that a large majority of people support capital punishment if they aren't given any alternatives. "Once you start introducing variables, that number goes down. It's once you tell people that more poor people than wealthier people are convicted of capital crimes, that the cost of executing somebody is more than locking them up, or that it doesn't reduce violent crime," Bosley said. Bosley added that "nothing in government is foolproof," and that there are cases where even DNA evidence found at the scene of a crime may not be totally reliable to obtain a guilty verdict. "The governor is playing to people's emotions, rather than using cold, hard facts," he said. "I don't know why the governor is bringing this up. It's just not an issue that comes up. If you poll people, they'll say the issues important to them are health care and housing." State Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., D-Pittsfield, who also opposes the death penalty, said he, too, was not surprised by the margin in favor demonstrated by the poll. "The death penalty topic rarely comes up. The conversations with my colleagues have involved health care, education and local aid. We've spent almost no time talking about the death penalty," Nuciforo said. There has not been an execution in Massachusetts since 1947. Massachusetts is one of 14 states without capital punishment, while the state of Illinois has had a moratorium on executions since 2000. Romney filed the death penalty bill in April. The bill called for numerous safeguards to prevent an innocent person from being sentenced to death, including providing capable legal representation to indigent people. Julie Teer, Romney's press secretary, said the poll was "very interesting," but that the governor's support of capital punishment was based on "his deeply held beliefs that the death penalty should be applied in the most heinous of crimes." RESULTS: 65 percent of the respondents said they support Romney's proposal for 'foolproof' death penalty; 32 percent opposed it. WHO: Survey of 400 Massachusetts residents, sponsored by the State House News Service and conducted by KRC Communications Research. WHEN: Poll conducted between May 4 and May 6 and having a 4.8 percent margin for error.