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Students, Citizens Adjust to Reinstatement of Death Penalty

* Capital punishment legal in home states of many, undergrads express little shock


Two days after the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 81 to 79 to reinstate the death penalty, local citizens are adjusting to a new bill that could change how they view crime.

For some Harvard students, however, the death penalty isn't anything new. Many students are from states and countries that have been using the death penalty for years.

"Being from California, where [the death penalty] has been legal for so long, I'm not really surprised," said Cecile O. Directo '98, an Engineering concentrator living in Mather House.

The state has not had an execution since 1947. In 1984, the Massachusetts Supreme Court threw out the most recent death penalty law.

Commonly known as one of the most liberal states in the Union, Massachusetts' legislature has rejected the death penalty twice in the past four years.

Now, with a string of recent murders and a governor who strongly supports capital punishment, the death penalty is once again being considered by the government as a solution to crime.

Since the Senate and the House passed different versions of the bill, it will go into conference committee where it will be rewritten as a compromise between the two bills.

The Senate passed a version that includes 12 crimes that can be punishable by the death penalty, while the House version includes 15 crimes.

After the new version is approved in both houses, it must receive the signature of Governor A. Paul Cellucci.

Government officials expect that the bill will become a law with no problems.

"Now that it's legal, it'll be interesting to see what people here think is appropriate for death," Directo said. "When you make the death penalty legal, you basically put up for public opinion what's right and what's wrong."

Other students were concerned about how the death penalty will be used in Massachusetts.

"Personally, I object to the death penalty because it depends on the arbitrary judgment of a jury," said Yasunari Inamura '99, an exchange student from Japan.

After seeing how the death penalty works in his country, Inamura said that he is skeptical about its implementation in Massachusetts.

"In Japan, where the death penalty is legal, there's a protracted debate about it," he said. "I think the opponents of the death penalty are gaining."

Other Harvard students said that they see Massachusetts' acceptance of the death penalty as part of a larger national trend.

"I've become apathetic because the tide is against me," said Claire L. Bierhorst '98, an American History concentrator in Winthrop House. "I'm from New York, where it's also recently become legal, and it looks like the rest of the country is looking to it as an answer."

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