Boston Globe
  March 30, 1999

  Mass. House rejects death penalty again
  By Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff

  Following six hours of passionate debate yesterday, the Massachusetts 
  House of Representatives defeated a bid to reinstate the death penalty in 
  a vote that underscored the erosion of legislative support for capital 

  By an 80-73 tally, the House accepted the Criminal Justice Committee's 
  vote last week to reject death-penalty legislation that Governor Paul 
  Cellucci had made a top priority.

  House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, an opponent of capital punishment, 
  called the vote a decision of conscience for a chamber that only 15 months 
  ago blocked reinstatement in a tie vote after an 11th-hour switch by one 

  "There has been no strong-arm approach whatsoever," said the Mattapan 
  Democrat. "This is as straight as it gets."

  But Cellucci last night assailed the speaker for holding the vote when the 
  House had six vacant seats, and he questioned whether Finneran influenced 
  the resignation last week of a supporter of death penalty legislation, 
  Dennis M. Murphy, a Springfield Democrat who left to take a private sector 

  "I think that he was determined to defeat it, and he did," said the 
  Republican governor. "And I think it's unfortunate because I believe that 
  the people of this state are not being represented by their 

  Cellucci pledged to refile the legislation again next year. And House 
  Minority Leader Francis L. Marini said the death penalty could resurface 
  again this year, as an amendment to the Senate budget.

  But Representative A. Stephen Tobin, a death penalty supporter who is 
  cochairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, conceded that such a 
  maneuver would be futile in a House that already has spoken.

  The last execution in the state was in 1947. The state Supreme Judicial 
  Court threw out the most recent capital punishment law in 1984. 
  Massachusetts is one of 12 states that does not carry the death penalty on 
  its books.

  For six hours, the century-old chamber echoed with rhetoric that contained 
  counterbalanced pleas: descriptions of the death penalty as the ultimate 
  justice for victims of horrific killings, and arguments that capital 
  punishment is nothing more than state-sanctioned murder.

  "There is one irrefutable fact: Innocent people are wrongly convicted," 
  said Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, a Democrat from Newton. "Innocent 
  people have been sent to death row and been executed. Today, we deal with 
  an issue of life itself."

  Tobin, a Democrat from Quincy, said "common ground" could be found between 
  the two camps because "no one has argued that these criminals have a right 
  to go on living." The argument has been that executing a murderer is akin 
  to the crime itself, Tobin said, and that "seems to be an exercise in 

  Due-process safeguards in the legislation, Tobin said, "would make it 
  virtually impossible to execute an innocent man."

  Harold P. Naughton Jr., a Democrat from Clinton, was the only legislator 
  to change his stance from 1997. A supporter of the death penalty that 
  year, Naughton surprised administration officials when he cast the 
  deciding negative vote for the Criminal Justice Committee last week.

  The 21 new legislators in the House this year were considered a key factor 
  in the vote, but they broke almost evenly on the issue. Representative 
  Steven V. Angelo, a Democrat from Saugus who endorsed capital punishment 
  in 1997, did not vote yesterday.

  One of the most eloquent speeches made on the floor was delivered next to 
  last by freshman Representative Brian P. Golden, a Democrat from Brighton. 
  With a membership listening intently for nearly the first time since 
  debate began hours before, Golden declared the country's judicial system 
  to be fraught with the potential for deadly mistakes.

  Golden, a lawyer and son of a career police officer, told the rapt 
  chamber: "If the death penalty is resurrected, the capacity for error in 
  our all-too-human system will beget tragedy."

  Republicans offered amendment after amendment in unsuccessful attempts to 
  make the bill palatable to opponents. After a bid to postpone the vote 
  until September was defeated overwhelmingly, death penalty foes also 
  rejected efforts to limit capital punishment to killers of law enforcement 
  officers, to convicted murderers who kill again in prison, and in cases 
  where several layers of proof and witnesses would be required.

  Representative John P. Slattery, the Peabody Democrat whose vote change in 
  December 1997 created an 80-80 tie that doomed the bill, lashed out at the 
  attempt to reserve capital punishment for "cop killers."

  "Why is a cop's life more important than my mother's?" Slattery asked 
  angrily. He also said that the much-debated concept of capital punishment 
  as a deterrent is "a lame argument," and that the impact of a death 
  penalty is felt disproportionately by the poor.

  "There is no good murder," said Representative Byron Rushing, a Democrat 
  from the South End. "We want a place with less murder. We want a place 
  with less violence."

  Many death penalty supporters were surprised that the amendments lost 
  badly, some by ratios of greater than 3-1. Representative Colleen M. 
  Garry, a Dracut Democrat who is vice chairwoman of the Criminal Justice 
  Committee, speculated that efforts to narrow the death penalty bill were 
  geared to saddle opponents with "bad votes" before the next election cycle.

  Garry, who backs the death penalty, said yesterday's vote carried less 
  pressure than the 1997 decision, which followed the recent murder of 
  10-year-old Jeffrey Curley.

  Still, Garry said, some parishioners stopped her after Mass at her church 
  Sunday to say, "You know which way to vote." But in the end, the decision 
  was hers to make alone, she said. She said even her father, a Catholic 
  seminarian for 10 years, did not try to influence her.

  Meanwhile outside the State House, a noontime rally was solidly behind the 
  reinstatement of capital punishment. Flanked by relatives of murder 
  victims and standing before dozens of police officers, Cellucci pointed to 
  the State House and said in a rising voice: "We have a House of 
  Representatives that is out of touch with the people they represent."

  For nearly an hour, pro-death penalty speakers squinting in the sunlight 
  stepped up to the podium. Some gave raw details about how a loved one was 
  murdered. Voices cracked. Chins quivered with emotion. Fists banged the 
  microphone stand. Police officers nodded in agreement with political 

  One speaker was Ann Schiavina, whose son, a police officer, was murdered 
  on the job in Springfield. Wearing a large gold cross around her neck and 
  saying she was a Catholic originally from Northern Ireland, Schiavina 
  recalled her outrage at not being able to vote in her former homeland 
  because of her religion.

  "Well, that right was taken from me again," she said, adding that she sent 
  a certified letter to Finneran requesting he delay the vote until all the 
  House seats are filled. She never got a response.

  "To the speaker of the House . . . you're not a man and I hope to God 
  you're not Irish," Schiavina said.

  Immediately following the rally, Cellucci conceded defeat even though the 
  vote was several hours away. He said that momentum had waned in the two 
  years since 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley's murder, that the opposition is 
  better organized, and that the good economy has taken away some of the 
  issue's urgency.

  Tina Cassidy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.