Sentinel & Enterprise
  Friday, March 28, 2003

  Debate yields little support for reinstating death penalty
  By Julie Mehegan, Sentinel & Enterprise State House Bureau

  BOSTON -- Lawmakers hosted a remarkably subdued and sparsely 
  attended hearing Thursday on what was once one of the most 
  contentious issues ever debated in the Legislature: the death 

  At its peak, only about 100 people turned out for the hearing 
  before the Committee on Criminal Justice. For nearly six hours, 
  not a single word of testimony was delivered in favor of 
  legislation seeking to reinstate capital punishment, though 
  some written testimony was submitted, including a letter from 
  Gov. Mitt Romney.

  Panel after panel of opponents, from clergy members to human 
  rights activists to relatives of murder victims, showed up to 
  testify against reinstating the death penalty, which was 
  outlawed in Massachusetts in 1984.

  Among those testifying was Betty Anne Waters, whose
  brother, the late Kenneth Waters, spent more than 18 years in
  prison for murder before DNA testing of evidence cleared him.
  Kenneth Waters, of Ayer, was released from prison in 2001 but
  died just six months later in an accident.

  For the duration of Kenneth Waters' imprisonment, "the one
  thing my family held onto was at least Massachusetts does not
  have the death penalty," said Waters, who went to law school
  in an effort to secure her brother's freedom. "Time was one our
  side to prove my brother was innocent."

  Waters said her family finds comfort in knowing that her
  brother died a free man. Flaws in the nation's justice system
  make reinstating the death penalty too risky, she said.

  "A lot of people say it's the best system in the world, but it's
  flawed," she said. "Instead of being wrongly convicted, my
  brother could have been wrongly executed."

  Four bills -- two sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Brian
  Lees, R-Springfield, and one each by Rep. Brad Jones,
  R-North Reading, and Rep. Michael Ruane, D-Salem --
  propose reinstatement of capital punishment in certain cases.

  For 12 years, Republican governors have tried to get a death
  penalty bill passed. The closest they came was in 1997, when
  the measure, fueled by outrage over the brutal murder and
  sexual assault of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, lost by just one

  In recent years, police officers and relatives of murder victims
  have lined the hearing room when the issue comes up to lobby
  for the death penalty, squaring off with opponents.

  Jones said Thursday, "a lot of people's attention these days is

  Some supporters mused that the war with Iraq, the dismal
  economy and the apparent shortage of votes needed for a bill to
  pass this session led to the absence of supporters at the hearing,
  while opponents suggested the appetite for reinstating the death
  penalty has waned.

  A survey of lawmakers published by The Boston Globe in
  November showed a bill was unlikely to pass this session.

  "I think the word is out," said Rep. Brian Knuuttila,
  D-Gardner, a death penalty supporter and vice chairman of
  the committee who said he was "disturbed" that backers of the
  bills did not come to Thursday's hearing. Knuuttila's district
  includes Westminster, Ashby, Ashburnham and Fitchburg's
  Ward 4.

  But there aren't enough votes on the committee to recommend
  passage of the bill, he said, "and that type of word travels fast."

  A Romney spokeswoman said the fact that no one from the
  administration testified Thursday should not be viewed as a
  sign of wavering support for capital punishment. Romney
  supports reinstatement of the death penalty for certain crimes.

  "We did send a letter voicing the governor's and lieutenant
  governor's support for the death penalty and our own
  legislation, which we will file later this session," said
  spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter.

  Romney's letter said he is "committed to the passage of
  legislation calling for the death penalty as a sentencing option
  in a limited number of heinous crimes," including homicides
  resulting from terrorism and the assassination of law
  enforcement officers, prosecutors and witnesses.

  Other death penalty opponents testifying at Thursday's hearing
  included defense attorneys and members of a national
  organization called Murder Victims' Families for
  Reconciliation, which opposes the death penalty.

  Those testifying said capital punishment is too costly, is applied
  unfairly, and there is too much room for error.

  Jeffrey Curley's father, Robert, once a passionate crusader for
  the death penalty, told lawmakers that while he wouldn't mind
  seeing some murderers "beaten daily," he now believes the law
  is too often applied unfairly and gives too much power to the