Weddings & Milestones
Founded in 1928, MCADP is the oldest active anti-death penalty organization in the United States.
Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty
Detail of Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco from the cartoon of a mural by Ben Shahn © Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
MASSACHUSETTS CITIZENS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY
TESTIMONY OPPOSING DEATH PENALTY BILL (House 1494)
This is the third time this particular bill to reintroduce the death penalty in Massachusetts has been filed. It is modeled on Governor Romney’s death penalty bill of 2005. That bill, which the then governor described as “the gold standard for the death penalty in the modern scientific age” was overwhelming defeated by the House of Representative and was again overwhelmingly defeated a few years later when reintroduced by Representative Bradley Jones.
The problems with the 2005 bill remain in the current version, and thus we attach an analysis we made of Governor Romney’s proposal. In essence, despite claims that the bill would create scientific certainty in sorting out the “worst of the worst” who deserve capital punishment while avoiding sentencing the innocent to death, each version of the original Romney bill falls far short of this goal. There is no plausible relationship between the existence of scientific evidence to prove guilt and the crime being among the worst. Recognizing this, the bill does not require that guilt be proved by scientific evidence. Rather, it asks the jury, once a conviction has been rendered, to determine in the penalty phase whether there is a “high level of certainty” that scientific evidence, broadly defined, ties the defendant to the crime. This simply misses the point of what the U.S. Supreme Court has said a jury is supposed to do in a penalty phase. Having already determined guilt, a jury is supposed to decide whether to sentence a defendant to death or life imprisonment by weighing whether aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors. Scientific evidence of guilt has no role in this weighing process, but it might erroneously tend to lead a jury toward a death sentence by improperly focusing on how sure the jurors are that the defendant is guilty, rather than focusing on the remarkably difficult moral question of whether or not to sentence another human being to death.
Not only has this body rejected previous efforts to enact this bill, but much has changed since Governor Romney introduced his bill ten years ago. Since 2005, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York have abolished the death penalty. Pope Francis, in his recent address to Congress, asked the United States to do so as well. Justice Scalia thinks his colleagues are on the verge of doing just that. Even Texas, which has executed 529 people since 1976, far more than any other state, has sentenced no one to death so far this year. And in our own state, the Marathon bombing, a horrific crime that killed three people, including a child, at a major pubic event, did not, as one might have expected, lead the public to want the one surviving bomber to be executed. Polls taken never showed that more than one-third of those responding thought the suspect, despite his obvious guilt, should be sentenced to death, and by the time of the trial, that number had declined to one-quarter of those responding.
Massachusetts has not had a death penalty since 1984 and has not executed anyone since 1947. There is no reason to change this.