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DAs rap governor's death penalty plan

Page 2 of 2 -- She also said that Romney recognizes that both offices were underfunded and has proposed increasing their budgets.

The prosecutors raised other financial concerns, as well. Citing the experience of others states with capital punishment, including Texas and Idaho, Keating estimated that it would cost Massachusetts at least $5 million to prosecute someone in a death penalty case, because of the added costs of a review by a death penalty commission, a separate sentencing phase, and appeals. He estimated that prosecuting someone for first-degree murder and incarcerating for life would now cost the state about $1 million.

Keating, whose office handles about 19,000 criminal complaints a year, said the cost of prosecuting one death penalty case would be almost as much as his entire annual budget of $6.8 million.

Some prosecutors said the release of wrongfully convicted people from prisons across the country, including eight such cases in Suffolk County since 1997, suggest that it is impossible to protect the innocent from execution.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, a Democrat, said the release of four wrongly convicted or indicted inmates since he took the job in 2002 "has simply convinced me that while technology like DNA is critical in determining one's guilt or innocence, the administration of justice is a human endeavor, and we're all fallible."

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, also a Democrat, who formerly supported the death penalty under limited circumstances but no longer does, said she was troubled by the commission's proposal to create a heightened burden of guilt in the sentencing phase of cases.

At sentencing, the jury would be required to find that there is "no doubt" that the defendant committed capital murder, exceeding the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for the trial phase. "You're creating two burdens of proof," she said, which raises potential constitutional questions.

Other district attorneys were more receptive. Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, a Republican and one of the 11 members of the gubernatorial panel, said that prosecuting death penalty cases would undoubtedly be costly, but that the state could afford it, because the punishment would be reserved for "the worst of the worst."

He said he would be shocked if the cost of prosecuting each case totaled $5 million, as Keating had estimated.

Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte, a Democrat, strongly supports the death penalty, but said wanted to study the panel's recommendations before commenting, said his spokewoman. 

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