The death penalty still divides

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.

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Representative Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican, supports Miceli’s proposal.

“You are talking about the worst of the worst – a cop killing or witness killing,” he said. “There are also significant protections to ensure that without a doubt the person actually committed a crime.”

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.

The Marathon bombings killed three people and injured about 260. A few days later, an Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was shot to death, allegedly by the bombing suspects, one of whom is now in custody and who could face the death penalty under federal law. The second suspect was killed.

O’Flaherty, in an e-mailed statement, said, “The House in its recent budget debate decided to stay focused on fiscal policy and not to deviate into matters, such as capital punishment, that are making their procedural way through the committee process,” adding that there will be opportunity to debate Miceli’s proposal when the House Judiciary Committee — which he chairs — holds a hearing on the stand-alone bill July 9.


Regarding his own stance, O’Flaherty said: “I oppose the reinstatement of capital punishment here in Massachusetts and have voted consistently and repeatedly over the course of my legislative career in opposition’’ to it.

‘At the end of the day, killing someone to prove killing is wrong is inappropriate.’

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 Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, said he would have to examine the “pros and cons” of a broad death penalty bill. But he favors Miceli’s proposal.

“I think for anybody that goes after our public safety officials, something like this should be in place. I would hope it would be a deterrent,” Hill said.

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.

Representative Theodore C. Speliotis, a Danvers Democrat, said he has always opposed capital punishment, citing the same concern.

“You could never guarantee the government is right,” he said.

State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat who also represents Haverhill and a wide swath of the Merrimack Valley, opposes restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts, based primarily on the “potential for error in the criminal justice system.”

Regarding the recent attack, she said: “I want justice and I want there to be a strong prosecution. But to me that is not connected to the state policy.”

Representative Paul Brodeur, a Melrose Democrat, also said the terrorist attack has not altered his opposition to capital punishment. “The history of the death penalty shows that it is unequally applied, that it depends on your station in life,” he said, also citing the potential for executions of innocent people.

Representative Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, said by e-mail that she has long opposed the death penalty, but would be willing to look at the pending bill “as long as it has a hearing where I can hear all sides of the issue and language can be vetted through the legislative process.”

John Laidler can be reached at