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Death penalty bill faces a battle

Victims' relatives added to chorus of opposition

The rape and murder of his 10-year-old son a decade ago brought the state to the brink of reinstating the death penalty, but yesterday Robert Curley led an impassioned opposition to a capital punishment bill.

After the killing of his son Jeffery in 1997, Curley had pushed for the death penalty, and lawmakers came within a single vote of approving it. But since then, Curley has changed his mind and opposition has steadily grown in the Legislature.

"I started to see that there were people like me who had suffered the same loss that I had who were opposed to the death penalty, and it kind of made me take a step back and take a look at the death penalty itself," he said. In the end, he said, he decided that the death penalty was disproportionately used against those without the means to hire expensive lawyers.

Curley was among a group of relatives of murder victims, including the wife and sister of two who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, who testified against the bill. The bill's sponsor - House minority leader Brad Jones, Republican of North Reading - did not testify at the hearing, but defended the death penalty.

"I think it's an option that the state should have in certain cases," he said. "I remain convinced it is the most appropriate punishment for the most horrific crimes." Jones's bill mirrors a proposal filed by Governor Mitt Romney in 2005 that he said would create a "gold standard" for capital punishment.

Romney had touted the bill as foolproof, saying it would have strict safeguards and seek executions in "very rare circumstances," such as terrorism, serial killing, or murder of police officers or other public servants. House lawmakers defeated the bill on a 99-to-53 vote.

Death penalty supporters face a new hurdle, a promised veto from Governor Deval Patrick. Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke read a statement from Patrick saying his opposition "is based on real life experience with capital punishment, both defending individuals sentenced to death and having to decide whether to seek the death penalty against federal defendants."

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