Boston Herald
  Monday, July 18, 2005 

  Mitt's execution bill should be DOA
  By James Alan Fox

  All too often debates about the death penalty dissolve into either 
  emotionally charged arguments over morality or intellectually 
  sterile exchanges of facts, figures and scientific research. Neither 
  type of discussion appears to change many minds on the propriety of 
  state-sanctioned killing.

  Logic about the utility of capital punishment, however, suggests 
  that legislation proposed by Gov. Mitt Romney to reinstate the death 
  penalty is just a bad idea. Restoring capital punishment makes 
  little sense, especially in light of Massachusetts' distinction as 
  having the lowest homicide rate among the urban states and the lack 
  of consensus in public opinion.

  Romney's bill strives to eliminate the chance of error by fashioning 
  a foolproof system informed by science, such as DNA and other 
  high-tech approaches to produce a no-doubt standard. The layers of 
  safeguards, including a tandem of top-notch defense attorneys, wide 
  latitude in hiring experts, appeals and post-conviction review, 
  would make the state's capital punishment machinery the most 
  expensive in the land. When Romney called his proposal a gold 
  standard, he wasn't kidding, at least about the gold.

  Romney apparently isn't concerned about the millions that this 
  process would cost the taxpayers. In 2002, then-candidate Romney 
  made his priorities clear.

  "I don't think that the death penalty has anything to do with 
  cost," he argued during a debate with Democrat Shannon O'Brien. 
  "But it has everything to do with deterrence - to send a statement 
  loud and clear to terrorists, cop killer and others."

  In light of his commitment to science and uncritical trust in 
  scientific evidence, it is perplexing that the governor is so 
  dismissive of decades of scientific studies refuting the deterrence 

  Suicide bombers certainly are not deterrable by the prospect of 
  death. Other terrorists even welcome execution to advance their 
  agenda and status as martyrs.

  As for cop killers, slaying an officer is often a deliberate move to 
  escape arrest. For someone maneuvering to avoid any penalty, the 
  severity of that punishment is of no real significance. 

  It is the likelihood of punishment, and not its severity, that has 
  the potential to deter. Ironically, the narrow applicability of 
  Romney's bill would negate any deterrent effect that capital 
  punishment could arguably carry. Designed to apply only to the worst 
  of the worst, which translates into the rarest of the rare, how 
  could it deter?

  I am not arguing for a broader-based bill - a silver or bronze 
  standard. The death penalty does not protect us any better than the 
  current sanction, life in prison without possibility of parole. The 
  deterrence issue is relative, not absolute. The question is not 
  whether offenders are dissuaded by death, but whether they are any 
  more dissuaded by death than by life without parole.

  Much of the debate last week surrounding Romney's bill addressed 
  whether it would guarantee an error-free death penalty. However, in 
  these difficult economic times with so many critical social programs 
  underfunded, it is foolish to spend millions in an attempt to 
  execute a tiny handful of murderers.

  James Alan Fox is The Lipman Family professor of criminal justice at 
  Northeastern University. He testified last week at the State House 
  hearing on capital punishment.