Boston Globe
  November 7, 1997

  No death penalty, by one vote
  Momentum for a state law is halted as House member changes his mind;
  By Adrian Walker and Doris Sue Wong, Globe Staff

  In a stunning reversal, the Massachusetts House last night refused, on a 
  tie vote, to reinstate the death penalty, bucking the wave of support for 
  the resumption of state executions that followed a string of heinous 
  murders in the region.

  Nine days after voting 81-79 in favor of capital punishment, the chamber 
  deadlocked after one representative, John P. Slattery of Peabody, switched 
  his vote out of concern that innocent people could face execution, and 
  that the bill did not afford enough protection for juveniles and 

  Under parliamentary rules, the 80-80 vote killed the bill, which would 
  have allowed capital punishment for 15 categories of first-degree murder. 
  The vote preserved Massachusetts' status as one of 12 states without the 
  death penalty.

  Opponents of capital punishment got their chance to reverse the tide 
  because the House and Senate, having passed different versions of the 
  death-penalty legislation, had to vote yesterday to accept the compromise 
  bill crafted by a House-Senate conference committee.

  The Senate, long a bastion of support for the death penalty, easily 
  approved the bill yesterday. But it was a different scene in the House.

  Between last week and last night, Slattery was swayed by his conviction 
  that the law would apply to those under 18, he said. Also, the conference 
  committee weakened protections for minority defendants contained in the 
  House version - a factor that also apparently contributed to Slattery's 
  change of heart.

  In a dramatic speech from the House floor, Slattery - a second-term 
  Democrat - also said he had been heavily influenced by the Louise Woodward 
  case, in which the British au pair was convicted of second-degree murder 
  in the death of an infant. Many consider the verdict an example of the 
  frailties of the jury process - and Slattery, despite his professed belief 
  that some crimes warrant the death penalty, saw the case as underscoring 
  the absence of guarantees that innocent people would not be executed under 
  the bill.

  "It left me feeling that we can't always be certain that we executed the 
  right guy," Slattery said. "And if we can't be certain of that, then I 
  have a very big problem with the death penalty.

  "I'll tell you one thing I don't want to face, and it is a matter of 
  conscience. I don't want to be lying in my bed at 12:01 a.m. 15 years from 
  now knowing that somebody is being put to death, that I helped create the 
  mechanism for putting that person to death and not being sure that person 
  being put to death deserved what he got."

  The momentum for the reinstatement of the death penalty came largely from 
  a recent string of gruesome murders. Foremost among those was the slaying 
  Oct. 1 of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, whose body was sexually assaulted 
  and dumped into the Great Works River in Maine.

  Other slayings also fed the public fury, including the bludgeoning of 
  Elaine Donahue of Reading, allegedly by her husband; the shooting of Annie 
  Glenn in front of her three young children, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend; 
  the strangling of Catherine Rice of Lowell and her two sons, allegedly by 
  her boyfriend; and the killing of teenager LaToya Graham of Lynn.

  Slattery's vote and the outcome in the House drew harsh reaction from 
  Acting Governor Paul Cellucci and other death-penalty proponents. They 
  accused House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran of employing dirty tricks to 
  salvage victory from near-certain defeat.

  "Speaker Finneran and the House of Representatives pulled the rug out from 
  under the people of Massachusetts," Cellucci said after the vote. "The 
  people of Massachusetts wanted a death penalty. Last week they had it, and 
  tonight Speaker Finneran stole it away."

  In a weary but measured tone, Finneran rebutted the governor's allegations.

  "I'm sure there were people on both sides who continued to talk to members 
  all over the place on it," said the Mattapan Democrat. "I have no control 
  over who is saying what. No promises were made, no inducements were 
  offered, no punishment was threatened. People are free to vote the way 
  they chose. They always have been, at least on this issue."

  Aside from the possible execution of those who had been wrongly convicted, 
  opponents argued that the final version of the bill would open the door to 
  the execution of juveniles as young as 14. Specifically, they asserted 
  that the 1982 statute that prohibits the execution of convicts who were 
  younger than 18 when they killed is no longer valid because it was part of 
  a law struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Judicial Court in 

  The SJC had ruled that the law was flawed because it exempted from the 
  death penalty defendants who plead guilty to first-degree murder. The 
  exemption, the court found, coerced defendants into pleading guilty.

  Cellucci's legal staff, however, maintained that the bill would have 
  corrected the problems.

  Representative Stephen A. Tobin (D-Quincy), a longtime death-penalty 
  proponent who was a member of the conference committee, said he found 
  Slattery's explanation for switching unsatisfactory. Tobin suggested that 
  Slattery never mentioned his concern about the juvenile or minority 
  protections on the House floor because they were not valid.

  The move to enact the death-penalty bill last night required two votes: 
  one for acceptance of the conference committee report and a second to 
  actually enact the law. Proponents suspected trouble after the first vote, 
  in which several opponents voted to accept the report, while some others 
  voted present.

  Other representatives who oppose capital punishment, including Finneran 
  and his top lieutenants, did not cast votes on accepting the conference 
  report, sources said, to try to mask Slattery's intention to switch his 
  vote, denying proponents a chance to urge him to reconsider.

  Some representatives opposed to capital punishment said they voted in 
  favor of accepting the committee report to ensure that the matter 
  proceeded to a decisive vote.

  Under legislative rules, if the conference bill had not been accepted, 
  another conference committee would have been appointed to draft another 
  version, keeping the issue alive. But with the bill defeated at the final 
  House vote, the issue may not be taken up again for the remainder of the 
  current legislative session, which means not just the rest of this year 
  but also next year.

  Last night's House action was the focus of ferocious lobbying, just as it 
  was last week. Central to that effort once again was the family of Jeffrey 
  Curley, who buttonholed as many legislators as possible in a frantic 
  effort to persuade the House to stand by last week's vote. Meanwhile, Paul 
  Hill, who served 15 years in prison in England for a 1974 bombing in which 
  he was later exonerated, and Sister Helen Prejean also lobbied against the 
  death penalty.

  In an emotional confrontation, Jeffrey Curley's uncle, James Michael 
  Curley, confronted Representative Eugene O'Flaherty of Chelsea during a 
  brief recess outside the House chamber.

  "Stand up there and say, 'You know what, I believe in this. We have to 
  take a stand. We have to save our children. We have to put an end to this 
  whole thing right here.' I'm begging you. Please do the right thing," 
  Curley said.

  O'Flaherty voted against the death penalty, despite Curley's plea.

  Earlier, reiterating his opposition to the death penalty was Cardinal 
  Bernard Law.

  "Is the debate over capital punishment really driven by a concern for the 
  common good?" he said yesterday at a breakfast meeting of business 
  leaders, higher education officials, and clergy. "This is the closest 
  thing I've seen to a lynch mob mentality since I left Mississipi. He was a 
  priest there during the 1960s. It's a frightening thing. It's a cheap, 
  quick fix that won't fix anything."

  Slattery, a frequent opponent of Finneran, particularly on labor issues, 
  denied that his vote had been an effort to curry favor with leadership.

  The debate before the vote went on for about five hours and closely 
  tracked, in content and tone, the marathon session last of Tuesday.

  Among the proponents was Representative Francis Marini, Republican of 

  "There are certain human beings, if you can call them human beings, for 
  whom the only just punishment is to forfeit their right to live among us," 
  he said.

  Finneran, making his first speech on the issue, made the case for the 
  other side.

  "Reflect upon this fact: What we are asked to consider and vote on today 
  is the ultimate irrevocable act that any human being can commit or 
  participate in. There is no redemption after this act, should that 
  ultimate punishment be taken," he said.

  "Mistakes can, do, and will occur," said Finneran, who spoke for about 30 
  minutes to a hushed House.

  Tina Cassidy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.