Friday, July 15, 2005 Editorial 'No-doubt' doubts Effort to make death penalty foolproof is futile Yesterday's Statehouse hearing on capital punishment covered much of the same ideological and rhetorical ground that proponents and opponents have been treading for decades. However, the current debate differs in emphasis from past ones because the death penalty bill proposed by Gov. Mitt Romney promises a "no-doubt" standard of proof that, supposedly, would guarantee that no innocent person ever could be executed. The political appeal of such a claim is obvious. As was the case with previous "foolproof" death penalty proposals, though, the Romney bill falls short of the mark. The DNA matching and other scientific methods on which the bill relies are powerful tools. However, the human element will always exist -- and thus the possibility of fatal error through mishandling of evidence, tampering, testing mistakes and the like. Also illusory is the bill's mandate of a review of all capital prosecutions. How that would improve upon the multiple levels of appeals already in place is unclear. The bill specifies that the death penalty would apply only to "the worst of the worst" crimes, including murders involving terrorism or torture and the murder of a law enforcement officer, judge, juror, prosecutor, lawyer or a witness, as a means of obstructing an ongoing criminal prosecution. The political appeal is obvious, but executing the wrong person is unconscionable, regardless of what category of crime the person was wrongly accused. Contrary to supporters' claims, there is no credible evidence that it deters would-be killers. Indeed, Texas and other states with the most executions also have the highest murder rates. The death penalty, last imposed in Massachusetts in 1947, was abolished officially in 1984. The most compelling reason why it should not be reinstated is, simply, that punishing a killing with a state-sanctioned killing is ethically and morally repugnant. With its risk of irreparable harm, it also is dreadful public policy. The Legislature should reject the Romney proposal.