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Romney Forms Council To Advise on Death Penalty

BOSTON—Seeking to bring about legislation next year that would reinstitute the death penalty in Massachusetts, Governor W. Mitt Romney (R) announced the formation of the Governor’s Council on Capital Punishment at the Massachusetts State House yesterday.

The council brings together 11 of the nation’s foremost experts on forensic science and the death penalty, including a Harvard Medical School professor and a Harvard Law School graduate.

“The commission is expected to meet frequently in the upcoming months and will draft a new capital punishment bill by next year, which will then be presented to the legislature in 2004,” Romney said.

Romney stressed that the council has only been formed because scientific advances have allowed for guilt and innocence to be more accurately determined.

“Just as science can free the innocent, science can also guarantee that we can identify the guilty,” he said.

Romney added that the council is not responsible for determining whether Massachusetts should reinstate the death penalty, but only for drafting legislation so that the death penalty could be applied in a very narrow scope of situations, namely “terrorist attacks and mass murder, assassination of police officers, judges and prison guards and very heinous crimes.”

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When questioned as to what would happen if the council found that there was no fair and just way to have capital punishment in society, Romney said he would not change his view as to the moral legitimacy of the death penalty but would follow its recommendations.

“If a group of this nature came back with such a result, it would be very compelling, and I would be wise to take heed of that. I would not change my position on the death penalty,” Romney said.

Council co-chair and Indiana University Law Professor Joseph L. Hoffman noted that the formation of the council is a revolutionary endeavor in the area of capital punishment, as it will build a statute from the ground up. Its results, he said, could provide a model for the entire nation.

“We are in a unique moment when the politics of capital punishment have been set aside to develop a better way,” Hoffman said.

The other chair of the council is Frederick R. Bieber, a Harvard Medical School professor and expert in genetics and forensic medicine. Bieber received the Award for Outstanding Service from the Justice Department for his work in identifying the remains of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center. In 1998, Bieber was appointed by then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to the FBI DNA Advisory Board and charged with developing quality assurance standards when handling DNA samples in criminal cases. Bieber was also appointed to the DNA Quality Assurance Oversight Committee at the Department of Defense.

Bieber commented on the importance of the council in developing a fair and just statute, and on the necessity for the council to understand the sanctity of its charge.

“The task of our council deals with the very essence of fairness and justice. We will seek to identify all safeguards and potential errors,” he said.

Bieber also stressed that none of the appointees to the council were questioned as to their personal views and beliefs on the nature of the death penalty.

“Our views on the death penalty are not known to the governor. I can assure you that there was no litmus test,” he said.

Also appointed to the council was attorney and Harvard Law School Alumnus Ralph F. Boyd Jr., who was appointed by President Bush in 2001 as the United Sates Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Boyd was not available for comment.

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