BOSTON (AP) - State lawmakers debated but ultimately shelved a proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts on Tuesday, after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and violent manhunt led some legislators to call for bringing back capital punishment in some cases.
Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, and the state last executed someone in 1947.
The surviving suspect in the Marathon attack, Dzhokhar Tsaranaev, could face the federal death penalty in connection with the bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260. State prosecutors are considering bringing charges against him in the fatal shooting of an MIT police officer late Thursday and the wounding of a transit officer during a gunfight that killed Tsaranaev's older brother, who was also suspected in the attacks.
Several lawmakers have said in the past week that it's time to consider bringing back capital punishment in a limited set of circumstances. They sought to attach an amendment to the state budget that would allow the death penalty for the murders of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, judges and some elected officials. Also included would be the murder of a witness who was about to testify in court.
The House of Representatives instead voted 119-38 in favor of a substitute amendment that sent the proposal to a committee for study. The procedural move warded off an up-or-down vote by lawmakers on the merits of capital punishment itself.
The lead sponsor of the death penalty proposal, Rep. James Miceli, D-Wilmington, said Tuesday that he filed the measure several days prior to the April 15 bombing and that it was not a "kneejerk reaction" to it.
Miceli urged House leaders to allow an up-or-down vote rather than substituting a measure that would shield members from having to vote while emotions are still running high after the attack.
"Who are we protecting?" Miceli said, prior to Tuesday's debate. "If you are man or woman enough, step up and take a vote, yes or no, and don't worry about being spotlighted."
Miceli said his proposal was modeled after a death penalty bill unsuccessfully pushed by then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in 2005.
Romney's bill called for limiting the death penalty to the "worst of the worst" crimes, including terrorism and the murder of police officers. It also proposed a rigid set of safeguards to assure that no innocent person was executed, including a requirement that physical evidence such as DNA directly link the defendant to the crime scene.
The closest the Legislature has come to restoring the death penalty since its abolition was in 1997, when a bill was defeated by a single vote in the House shortly after the murder of a 10-year-old Cambridge boy, Jeffrey Curley.
State Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, said while the public had every right to be horrified by last week's violence, "re-imposing the death penalty would do nothing to bring the victims back."
Linsky and other opponents cite studies from death penalty states that suggest it has not succeeded in deterring violent crime.
State Rep. Daniel Winslow, a Republican from Norfolk who is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John Kerry, argued that Massachusetts prosecutors should have the same ability as federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in certain cases.
"We understand that people of conscience can agree to disagree on this matter, but we have this option on the federal side, we should have the same option on the state side for the same reasons." Winslow said.
A standalone bill calling for reinstatement of the death penalty has been referred to a legislative committee and could be taken up later in the two-year session.