The Massachusetts House of Representatives, for the fourth time in seven years, prevented the state from reinstituting the death penalty it outlawed 13 years ago.
The House of Representatives rejected Senate bill 2003 by the closest possible margin, 80-80, shortly after 9:30 last night.
Acting Governor A. Paul Cellucci, who voiced support for the bill and postponed a trip to Canada for a bill signing next Wednesday, was unavailable for comment last night.
The late-night House vote was the culmination of a day of often heated debate.
Speaker of the House Thomas M.Finneran, who opposed the bill, acknowledged that he and other representatives have changed their positions on the emotional issue.
"There are no issues that bring such tension and anguish," Finneran said.
Another representative, in urging support of the death penalty, said, "Our most important responsibility is to provide for public safety."
State Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger '64, who has already announced his candidacy in next year's race for governor, has voiced his firm opposition to the death penalty for quite some time.
"We are winning the war against crime and violence in Massachusetts without the death penalty," said Debbie E. Banda, a spokesperson for Harshbarger, in an interview with The Crimson yesterday.
"There are some tragedies that can never be avenged or prevented, but we need to keep moving forward on what we know works--swift and certain punishment, prevention programs and adequate funding for police, prosecutors, courts and prisons," she said.
Cambridge representatives were divided on the issue. Alvin E. Thompson and Alice K. Wolf said they did not support the bill, and Timothy J. Toomey voiced approval for it when contacted for comment yesterday.
A spokesperson for Senator Thomas F. Birmingham, who represents Cambridge, said he was concerned about how the death penalty might be applied.
"The judicial process may not be a
delicate enough instrument to decide who could be sentenced to death by the state," the spokesperson said.
Cellucci and former governor William F. Weld '66 have proposed death penalty bills every year since 1991.
The bills have passed the Senate on three previous occasions only to falter in the House.
Momentum for this year's bill was fueled by the apparent kidnapping, rape and slaying of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, a Cambridge resident, in September.
Last night's results came as a surprise to some, who thought that after the lengthy debate in the last few weeks that opinions were firm. Cellucci was quoted last week as saying, "I just think those votes are pretty solid."
Last week, the Senate approved a less stringent version of the bill by a 22-14 margin. The House last week passed by an 81-79 margin a bill identical to the one it rejected last night