Worcester Telegram & Gazette
  Friday, July 15, 2005

  '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.