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May 5, 2013

Boston bombings apparently does not change Massachusetts' legislators perspectives on the death penalty

The conclusion in the title of this post is my take-away from this new Boston Globe article headlined "The death penalty still divides."   Here are excerpts:

The Boston Marathon terrorism attack is stirring renewed talk about restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts, but so far has apparently done little to ease the sharp divide among lawmakers on the issue.

About a dozen area legislators contacted this past week said their positions on capital punishment — for or against — are largely unchanged in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings on April 15 and the killing of a campus police officer that followed.

The issue briefly captured the spotlight on April 23 with a proposed House budget amendment from Representative James Miceli, a Wilmington Democrat. Miceli’s amendment, identical to a pending bill he filed, would have allowed for the death penalty in cases involving the murder of a law enforcement, court, or correctional officer; or a judge, witness, or others involved in the court process. It would also be available for murders involving torture or carried out as an act of terrorism....

But Representative Ken Gordon, a Bedford Democrat who also represents Burlington and a part of Wilmington, opposes the death penalty, even in such limited cases. Gordon said that the horrific actions of the alleged terrorists had not altered his view. “We don’t have the moral authority to kill our citizens. That’s my position and I don’t make any exceptions.”

Miceli’s amendment was effectively defeated when the House, by a 119-38 vote, agreed to a substitute amendment offered by Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, calling for a full study of the measure’s impact on the judicial system. Miceli said his amendment was not prompted by the bombings, noting that he filed it three days before the Marathon. But he said he was surprised that the event did not appear to sway his colleagues. “I felt under the circumstances of what had happened on the 15th, that would even give this more impetus, but it didn’t make any difference,” he said....

Miceli, who would favor a broader capital punishment bill, said he is pushing the more narrowly focused bill because he believes it has a better chance of passing. The death penalty has flared as an issue periodically in Massachusetts since the state abolished it in 1984. In 2005, lawmakers rejected a bill filed by then-governor Mitt Romney that is the same measure Miceli is now pushing.

Representative Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said he has been a longtime opponent of the death penalty, and the recent events did not change that. “In a horrific event like the Boston Marathon attack, understandably it makes us all question what sort of judgment is appropriate for such evil people who commit attacks like that,” Lewis said. But he said he continues to believe that capital punishment is not the right approach “even in the more narrow situation that Representative Miceli proposed.”

Representative John Keenan, a Salem Democrat, said he opposes the death penalty on principle.  “A case like this certainly tests your ability to stand against it in terms of the magnitude of how heinous the crime was.  Personally, you want to see the person punished. But at the end of the day, killing someone to prove killing is wrong is inappropriate,” he said. He also cited the potential for an innocent person to be executed as a factor....

Representative Jerry Parisella, a Beverly Democrat, called the death penalty “an emotional issue and one I’ve been struggling with for quite a while.  I personally don’t want to make a decision based on one particular event.”  Parisella said he leans against the death penalty due to serious concerns about the potential for executing an innocent person.

I think it is notable that even such a dramatic mass murder has apparently not (yet) significantly impacted public policy perspectives on the death penalty in Massachusetts. As criminal justice fans know too well, legislators are often quick (and, in my view, often much too quick) to start talking about making legislative changes in the wake of one high-profile crime and criminal, whether that involves a parolee gone bad or a firearm misused or lying mom acquitted or a suicide by a suspect. But, providing yet another example of how death is different, it appears that long-standing positions on the death penalty are not likely to be remade in the wake of just one notable crime.

Disappointingly missing in this story are any follow-up questions in light of the reality that it appears that the surviving Boston bomber is likely to be facing the death penalty as part of his federal prosecution. I wish the reporter here had followed up with those representatives who support bringing the death penalty on the books in Massachusetts by asking why their efforts are even needed if and when it appears clear that the feds will be able and likely to bring the death penalty on the table if and when any major murder occurs in the state.

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"it appears clear that the feds will be able and likely to bring the death penalty on the table if and when any major murder occurs in the state"

Where is the evidence of this? I know your beliefs on the matter, but will the feds "be able and likely" to bring the death penalty on the table if three police officers are killed in a prison break or rather during a liquor store robbery? Or, if we have another one of those tragic cases where a parent decides to kill a spouse and kids? Or, is this not a "major" murder?

Places w/o a death penalty have had "major murders" over the years. BTW, topically, the NY Daily News today discussed a historical case:

"At the time, the maximum federal penalty for sabotaging an aircraft during peacetime was 10 years in prison. So the case was turned over to the state, which could prosecute Graham for murdering his mother, and sentence him to death in the gas chamber."

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/justice-story/justice-story-son-bomb-mom-luggage-kills-44-flight-article-1.1335372#ixzz2SS3hZtUU

Posted by: Joe | May 5, 2013 4:21:22 PM

"...potential for an innocent person to be executed as a factor...."

"...leans against the death penalty due to serious concerns about the potential for executing an innocent person."

That really stupid argument has been addressed by analogy in this Comments section many times. Those two terrorist collaborators should visit it sometimes.

Stop all transportation until the 30,000 deaths of innocent people has ended, including walking, because 1000 of those are of pedestrians.

Stop all Broadway, because a play has failed.

Stop medicine because someone died.

Stop all mail because a letter went to a wrong address, as opposed to mail carriers fearing for their lives when the client of the lawyer is running about with the full protection and immunity of the VFL.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/mailmen_deliver_us_from_evil_9TJh9RgtiTv1FGwOw05MOI

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2013 5:04:00 PM

How is it stupid to abhor executing innocents...especially in a system that somewhat routinely demonstrates its safeguards fail to keep it from putting innocents on death row?

Never mind the existence of a number of other compelling arguments against state orchestrated killings (including one even tough-on-crime conservatives can appreciate...it's expensive).

BTW, Supremacy, you do understand, don't you, that the system you trust to kill people is a creature of, by and for VFLs and their running-dog male rent-seeking lawyers?

Posted by: John K | May 6, 2013 8:43:17 AM

What we need is the Federal Govt Dept of Justice to come out with a position that Every State MUST have a DP on the books if it wishes to receive any DOJ funding. The best way to make a puishment fair and not arbitrary is by having every state have only two sentences available for mass murder: LWOP or DP. Coercion through $...The Obama admin is good at that.

Posted by: DeanO | May 6, 2013 11:43:10 AM

I don't think the states will take too kindly to having the federal government set the rules for how they punish people in their states.

I don't know what has happened over the years to make the people in the U.S. have such a punitive state of mind.

Posted by: Liz McD | May 6, 2013 12:57:30 PM

John K --

I had to laugh at your last line. SC is actually a courteous and informed man, but seems to take an exotic view of a few things.

Moving right along: No sane person doubts that we have the right guy in this Boston Marathon bombing. I mean, hello, he's on tape planting the thing, then he gets in a shootout with the cops to avoid capture.

You think it's somebody else?

Before now, I thought you just spoke up for white collar swindlers, but I see you've expanded your range to all -- including terrorist killers -- who are victims of the Big Bad Prosecutor. I mean, it IS the prosecutor who's the problem here, not Tsarnaev -- right?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2013 12:59:54 PM

"Boston bombings apparently does not change Massachusetts' legislators perspectives on the death penalty"

This headline should scarcely be surprising. DP abolitionists are intentionally, indeed proudly, oblivious to the facts of the murder. If the Boston Marathon bomber had blown up 1000 eight year-old's instead of "just" one, it wouldn't make a particle of difference to their stance. It's like some prehistoric religion that just is not going to change.

When facts don't matter, lala land is never far away.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2013 1:09:34 PM

1. "Death Penalty Used in All 13 US Colonies at Outbreak of American Revolution"; G. Washington ordered executions during the Revolution.

2. One of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence is known to have not favoured the penalty (B. Rush).

3. The "First US Congress Establishes Federal Death Penalty" on April 30, 1790, (In 1787 the 5th and 14th Amendments recognizing it with due process).

4. "The first federal execution was on June 25, 1790," {RI had been the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790).
~~Pbs.org, Gwu.org, Procon.org

// "I don't know what has happened over the years to make the people in the U.S. have such a punitive state of mind." //

Over what time period? History, study it, learn it, or repeat the failures of it.

Posted by: Adamakis | May 6, 2013 1:33:05 PM

Liz McD --

"I don't think the states will take too kindly to having the federal government set the rules for how they punish people in their states."

Could you cite any evidence whatever that the people of Massachusetts do not want the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bomber, or that a majority of them oppose the federal charges here?

"I don't know what has happened over the years to make the people in the U.S. have such a punitive state of mind."

It's the same state of mind shared by Washington, Lincoln and FDR (all of whom not only supported but used the DP). And Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton. And Obama, now that we're at it. Were they all vengeance-filled blood lusters?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2013 1:38:38 PM

@Liz McD
The feds already tell the states how to punish criminals in regards to the death penalty, treatment of juvenile offenders and representation.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 6, 2013 6:55:05 PM

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