Saturday, November 12, 2005 Editorial Dead on arrival Massachusetts has a legitimate claim to being one of the most enlightened states in the country, in part because it does not give the government the power to execute prisoners. Civilized nations have ruled out killing as a form of punishment -- Europe, especially after centuries of unjust killing by its rulers, is wary of any state-sanctioned death penalty. In the United States, however, federal crimes are punishable by death and individual states can opt for the ultimate measure. It should be a source of pride for the commonwealth that it does not carry out executions, which is why it's unfortunate that the debate should even come up again in the Statehouse, prompted by legislation calling for the institution of the death penalty by Governor Mitt Romney. It has been said that the American experience has not soured the public on execution because the country has never been ruled by tyrants who could kill at will. In the United States, a system of justice has always prevailed that has insured fairness, and even when the final conclusion is death that decision is made after careful deliberation. But that argument is illusory because there are inequities in U.S. courts that have indisputably led to unfair and wrongful convictions. Some of those inequities include lack of access to quality representation and prejudice against minority defendants. Governor Romney claims his proposal is fool proof and would only execute people who are 100 percent guilty, but that is an impossibility. Punishment would only be implemented if DNA evidence and legal safeguards ensure a fair trial, according to the governor, but the possibility of corruption and incompetence make these measures less than fool proof. Every state that uses the death penalty would claim all of the prisoners killed were absolutely guilty, but recently prisoners around the country are being let off death row because new evidence has proved their innocence. How many innocents were killed unjustly? A system of justice that kills even one innocent person has been corrupted and needs reform. The trend of most states in the nation is to question their use of the death penalty considering how many prisoners have been exonerated, but Massachusetts' governor wants to take the state in the other direction. Governor Romney's death penalty plan is set to be debated in the House next week, and fortunately the bill has little support. The governor undoubtedly knows this, but believes pushing for the death penalty will earn him support from conservatives for his all but inevitable presidential campaign. That is a cynical approach toward an issue of life and death that no government, state or federal, should ever play a part in.