Massachusetts governor tries to bring back the death penalty

By: Mary Rogers

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is bent on bringing the death penalty back to Massachusetts--one of 12 states without it. It has been nearly 60 years since someone was executed in Massachusetts. Attempts to bring back the death penalty have failed in recent years -- most memorably, by a tie vote in 1997.

But Romney wants to give it another try. He created a commission to make recommendations on how to have an "error-free" death penalty. The report says that there should be "no doubt" as to the question of the person’s guilt at the sentencing phase of the trial, and also recommended that scientific evidence be required to support the conviction. Romney plans to introduce his death penalty bill sometime this year.

An examination of just one of the recent wrongful convictions in Massachusetts conclusively proves that there is "no doubt" that Romney’s plan will result in wrongful convictions. Stephen Cowans was convicted of shooting a police officer on the basis of expert testimony that a fingerprint was Cowans’ and an eyewitness account by the injured police officer, who testified that he had "no doubt" that Cowans was the shooter. Six years later, DNA was tested and proved Cowans was not the shooter.

Romney’s proposal recommends that two high-quality criminal defense attorneys be appointed to represent the accused in capital cases. Yet Massachusetts ranks third-lowest in the nation for compensating criminal defense attorneys who represent the poor. Efforts to increase compensation have been countered by a Romney proposal that would in reality cut the pay of lawyers, despite the fact that they have not received a raise for 19 of the last 20 years. Romney’s proposals are expected to be overwhelmingly defeated. Editorials and media reports show strong opposition and virtually no support.