- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Mitt Romney began his bid to bring the death penalty back to Massachusetts yesterday by saying he wants to craft a law that will make it “virtually certain” that only those guilty of the worst crimes would be executed.

He appointed an 11-member panel of scientists, prosecutors and legal experts to write a bill that relies heavily on science to determine guilt or innocence.

During his campaign for governor last year, Mr. Romney said he supports reinstatement of the death penalty for certain crimes, including the murder of a police officer, terrorist acts, the killing of a witness or murders committed with “extreme atrocity.”

The Republican governor faces a battle in the Legislature, where support for the death penalty, which peaked after the 1997 murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, has declined in recent years. The past four Republican governors have tried unsuccessfully to reinstate the death penalty, which was banned in the state in 1984.

Mr. Romney said the burden of proof used to sentence someone to death would likely have to be even tougher than the “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” level needed to convict someone of a crime.

“We want a standard of proof that is incontrovertible,” Mr. Romney said at a news conference. “This is a new kind of death penalty. … Just as science can free the innocent, it can identify the guilty.”

His panel includes U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic specialist best known for his testimony during the O.J. Simpson trial.

Romney told reporters he did not ask the panel members whether they favored or opposed the death penalty.

One of the co-chairmen of the panel, Joseph Hoffman, a member of the faculty at Indiana Law School, said the group intends to craft a bill that will guarantee an innocent person is not executed.

He said it is “within the realm of possibility” that the panel could conclude such a bill is not possible.

In 2000, then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, halted executions after courts found 13 men on death row had been wrongly convicted after the state resumed capital punishment in 1977.

In the case of Jeffrey Curley, two men are serving life sentences for luring the boy into a car, then smothering him with a gasoline-soaked rag when he resisted their sexual advances. His corpse was found encased in a concrete-filled tub in a Maine river.

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