February 20, 1980 Bolstering proposed for death penalty Associated Press With little fanfare, advocates of the death penalty have begun a campaign to bolster the new capital punishment law in Massachusetts with a constitutional amendment. Last year, when Sen. Arthur J. Lewis Jr. and Rep. Michael F. Flaherty guided a death penalty bill through the Legislature, they said the measure could stand on its own. This year, however, the two Boston Democrats have filed a proposed constitutional amendment on behalf of their cause, conceding that a "cloud" of legal doubt hangs over the new statute. Suffolk County Dist. Atty. Newman Flanagan recently asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to rule on the constitutionality of the new law. The court has held off from considering the case so far, but may act soon because murder cases that could be affected by the law have started to accumulate. Flaherty, cochairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, predicted after a committee hearing yesterday that the House and Senate would push through an amendment even if a filibuster develops. "We'll get a good percentage of both branches of the Legislature voting for it . . . . I think everyone wants to get that cloud removed," he said. The "cloud" is a reference to a 1977 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court that a nearly identical death penalty bill would, if passed, violate the state constitution's ban on "cruel or unusual punishment." The amendment would keep the ban, but keep the death penalty from being outlawed because of it. The Lewis-Flaherty amendment, and a similar bill filed by Republicans, drew relatively little comment from members of the public attending the hearing. Gretchen McKay Ashton filed a statement against the amendments on behalf of the Boston-based Committee Against Executions. Asserting that the death penalty has been eliminated in nearly every "mature" society except the United States and the Soviet Union, she said executions tend to be used mostly against the poor and blacks and fail to deter crime. Additional opposition came from school-prayer advocate Rita Warren of Brockton. She said she could not endorse capital punishment until judges are elected, instead of appointed.