-May 31, 2004
Let death penalty die Justice took a 30-year journey. But at least Laurence Adams was alive when it arrived.
USA Today, Editorial
Adams, who was sentenced to die in the electric chair in 1974 for the murder of a Boston subway worker, was freed on May 20 after a judge overturned his conviction based on new evidence that cast doubt on his guilt. Adams escaped execution because Massachusetts had abolished capital punishment soon after he was sentenced.
His near-death experience exposes capital punishment's fundamental flaw: the risk of killing an innocent person. Yet that hasn't stopped Massachusetts - of all states - from trying to resurrect executions.
A special committee has released a report on how the state legislature might design a death-penalty statute that is "as infallible as humanly possible."
The panel should have admitted it can't be done.  Something is either infallible or not. Ensuring absolute certainty in an emotionally charged death-penalty case is a lost cause.
Even so, the panel was formed last year by Gov. Mitt Romney to suggest how the state, one of 12 without capital punishment, could avoid irreversible mistakes should it re-adopt the death penalty. 
In its search for infallibility, the panel offers some extraordinary proposals. Among them: that the state raise the standard of guilt for a death sentence from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "no doubt" of guilt, and that defendants get separate juries for trial and sentencing. The state also would have to supply skilled defense lawyers, corroborate guilt with scientific evidence, conduct an independent review of the evidence and expand the authority of courts to overturn death sentences. Yet another panel would look into claims of error.
This amounts to more layers of review, but still no certainty. Scientific evidence can be contaminated, and even good lawyers and judges make mistakes. In fact, 113 death-row prisoners have been exonerated since 1973, reports the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
Ultimately, Massachusetts' effort will fail. While it would create a system more scrupulous and cautious than any other in the U.S., it still would not be able to ensure infallibility.
So don't try. A sentence of life without parole can be carried out sooner and at less cost. It poses no risk of executing the innocent and offers a greater deterrent by promising lifetime punishment.
As Laurence Adams well appreciates, the only certain way to avoid wrongful executions is to execute no one in the first place.
Source : USA Today