Sunday, July 17, 2005 Editorial No guarantees in life - or in death penalty Gov. W. Mitt Romney told lawmakers Thursday that his proposal to reinstate the death penalty comes with a guarantee that no innocent person would ever be executed in Massachusetts if his bill becomes law. "This is as foolproof a death penalty as exists, and you will not have false convictions and false executions under this bill," the governor told the Judiciary Committee. "This won't happen." If lawmakers believe that, we've got a tunnel in Boston we could sell them. Since 1973, 119 convicted murderers in 25 states have been freed after evidence surfaced that they had been wrongly convicted, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Earlier this month, a prosecutor in Missouri said she will reopen the case of convicted murderer Larry Griffin after receiving evidence of his possible innocence - 10 years after he was executed by lethal injection. Romney believes his bill has safeguards to prevent such mistakes, including a requirement for conclusive scientific evidence such as DNA analysis. The death penalty, however, can never be made foolproof, as Romney later acknowledged when pressed by lawmakers. A commission created by George Ryan when he was governor of Illinois concluded in 2002 that "no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and guarantee absolutely that no innocent person is ever again sentenced to death." Two years ago, Romney vetoed funds approved by the Legislature to create a Department of Forensic Sciences - just the type of department that would be necessary to provide the strict burden of proof that the governor promises in his bill. In addition, the state's crime laboratory, medical examiner's office and local police departments are not funded at the levels needed to ensure that only the guilty are executed. This newspaper has long opposed the death penalty, and will continue to speak out against it each time an attempt is made to reinstate it in Massachusetts. The death penalty does not deter violent crime; it unfairly targets blacks and other minorities, and it relies on a judicial system that, while the best in the world, is not perfect. There are no guarantees in life - or in the death penalty.