Melrose Free Press
 March 17, 2005

 No place for the death penalty
 By Rep. Mike Festa

 The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that offenders under age 18 
 cannot be sentenced to death. It's about time. We were the last democracy 
 in the world to end this practice.
      That said, many states continue to use the death penalty for 
 first-degree murderers, although here in Massachusetts we have not 
 executed anyone since 1947. Attempts to reinstate the death penalty have 
 occurred every legislative session, and most recently Governor Romney has 
 filed a new death penalty bill that purports to limit its application to 
 only "fool-proof" cases.
      There is no such thing, and even if the criminal justice system were 
 flawless, I believe there are other compelling reasons not to use the 
 death penalty. As a former assistant district attorney and member of the 
 Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, I am convinced that despite our best 
 efforts and intentions, our judicial system is not perfect and no death 
 penalty statute would be "fool-proof".
      The statistics on the rate of false convictions for death penalty 
 cases are simply staggering. Since 2000 alone, 36 death row inmates have 
 been exonerated, most often as the result of the discovery of new 
 evidence. Governor Mitt Romney formed the Council on Capital Punishment to 
 come up with a plan to reinstate a "fool-proof" death penalty. Romney has 
 repeatedly insisted on the Council's ability to create perfect 
 "evidentiary standards" to ensure the appropriate application of the death 
 penalty. But we cannot ignore the fact witnesses, juries, judges and 
 attorneys are all human and can and do make mistakes.
      Adding to the issue of false convictions is the fact that the vast 
 majority of defendants who are sentenced to death are unable to hire their 
 own attorneys and are represented by overburdened and underpaid public 
 defenders who are often incapable of providing sufficient services for 
 their clients.
      Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently observed, "I have 
 yet to eve-of-execution stay application in which the defendant 
 was well-represented at trial...People who are well represented at trial 
 do not get the death penalty." In the words of one Florida death row 
 inmate, "those without the capital receive the punishment."
      What are the other reasons suggested by proponents of the death 
 penalty? Deterrence is one. Well, virtually every study conducted has 
 indicated that the presence of a death penalty statute does little, if 
 anything, to deter potential offenders from committing violent crimes. In 
 fact, New England, where there has not been a single execution for nearly 
 a half-century, has the lowest per capita rate of violent crime of any 
 region in the country. Can it be fairly said that Florida, Texas and other 
 states that are relentless in using the death penalty are safer and less 
 murderous places to live?
      The death penalty is expensive. Sentencing an offender to death is at 
 least three times more expensive than life in prison without parole. In 
 Florida, for example, each execution costs the state $3.2 million -more 
 than five times the cost of life imprisonment. As taxpayers, we have to 
 ask ourselves: Is this the best use of our hard-earned tax dollars?
      Lastly and most important, the issue of the death penalty for me is 
 about justice and basic human rights. I appreciate that some people want 
 to seek revenge against those who have committed brutal and despicable 
 acts against innocent victims, or believe in "an eye for an eye". But for 
 the state to cause another to die only reinforces that cycle of death, and 
 by such acts we demean all our lives.
      The issue of the death penalty isn't going away. It divided our 
 Supreme Court and it will continue to divide our residents. But when the 
 arguments are thoughtfully considered, the case is clear that the death 
 penalty has no place in our society.

 State Rep. Mike Festa, D-Melrose, represents the 35th Middlesex