Proposed Massachusetts law would bring back the death penalty for police killers

"The people who committed these crimes, there’s no question of their guilt and we need to really stand with law enforcement."

Weymouth Police Sgt. Michael Chesna —Gary Higgins / The Quincy Patriot Ledger via AP

Convicted killers of law enforcement officers would be eligible for the death penalty in Massachusetts under a proposed law backed by the family of a Weymouth police sergeant killed on duty last year.

The bill, filed by Republican state reps. Shaunna O’Connell and David DeCoste, would give prosecutors the option to seek capital punishment in cases involving a defendant at least 18 years old who murdered an officer “either knowing that the victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties or in retaliation for performance of his or her duties, or both.”

Law enforcement officers would include “a correction officer or a person exercising the authority of a police officer, sheriff, or deputy sheriff,” according to the bill.

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O’Connell, testifying before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday, said three officers have been killed while doing their jobs over the last three years.

Auburn police officer Ronald Tarentino, Jr., 42, was allegedly shot and killed by Jorge Zambrano — who was subsequently killed by police — in May 2016.

Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon, 32, was killed in April 2018. Thomas Latanowich has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Weymouth police Sgt. Michael Chesna was killed in July 2018. His alleged killer Emanuel Lopes faces two murder charges after authorities allege he also killed Vera Adams, 77, in a standoff with police.

“The people who committed these crimes, there’s no question of their guilt and we need to really stand with law enforcement and send a strong message that we do not tolerate murder of any of our law enforcement officers,” said O’Connell, of Taunton.

The bill, if signed into law, would partially restore the death penalty in Massachusetts, where the practice was outlawed in 1984.

“I don’t believe that the authors of our Constitution ever intended for us to be limited in terms of what we can apply the death penalty to, certainly not to protect law enforcement officers,” DeCoste, of Norwell, said.

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Maryann Chesna, mother of fallen Sgt. Michael Chesna, told lawmakers Tuesday she is a “complete supporter of the bill.”

“My son was taken from us totally unexpectedly on a beautiful Sunday morning in Weymouth, our hometown for almost 50 years, doing what he loved but dying because of it,” she said.

She was joined by her son’s widow, Cindy Chesna, during the committee hearing.

“The justice system seems to me to be broken,” Maryann Chesna said. “There is no consequence. It’s arrest and release, arrest and release. People are taken in and within hours they’re out. They’re on probation. They’re out on bail. Nobody follows through. Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody seems to care.”

According to O’Connell, the bill has the support of over a dozen law enforcement associations from across the commonwealth. She said the measure would save lives and help authorities do their job.

“This is long overdue,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said at a press conference. “We owe it to the Chesna family, we owe it to every victim (and) family of law enforcement officers who supported and allowed their family member to go out into the community with one mission, knowing that they were leaving everyday to put their lives at risk to protect all of us.”

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