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Slattery's Switch: A Profile in Courage


We congratulate Representative John Slattery (D-Peabody) and the 79 other Massachusetts state representatives who voted against the death penalty bill in the House on Nov. 6. The bill, an earlier version of which had passed the House and Senate, failed unexpectedly when Slattery changed his vote on the revised conference bill from "yea" to "nay."

Outcry arose from the bill's supporters (politicians and citizens alike), who condemned Slattery for his change of heart. Acting Governor A. Paul Cellucci, no doubt with one eye on next year's gubernatorial election, angrily denounced him and the bill's other opponents. Some citizens went so far as to leave threatening messages on Slattery's home answering machine, prompted by Boston Herald columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr, who repeatedly announced the representative's home number and address on the air. Given this excessively antagonistic response, Slattery's apparently conscience-driven vote-change seems even more courageous.

Slattery's change of heart was prompted by a combination of doubts about his original vote and by the controversial verdict in the Louise Woodward murder trial. Whatever Slattery's thought process, his willingness to change his mind in the face of great opposition is commendable. "I just don't want to be lying in my bed at 12:01 a.m., 15 years from now, knowing that someone is being put to death, that I helped create the mechanism for putting that person to death and not being sure that person being put to death deserved what he got," he said on the House floor. He and the other representatives who voted against the death penalty should be able to sleep soundly now.

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