Capital punishment in Massachusetts

Capital punishment in Massachusetts was a legal form of punishment from 1620 to 1984.

The first recorded execution in Massachusetts was John Billington. He was executed by hanging on September 30, 1630, in Plymouth for murder. During the Salem witch trials (1692–1693), 20 individuals (14 women and 6 men) were executed for witchcraft by the colonial government.

The last executions were gangsters Philip Bellino and Edward Gertson on May 9, 1947, for the murder of Robert Williams, a former U.S. Marine. Both were executed via electric chair.

In 1982, Massachusetts people approved a legislatively referred constitutional amendment providing that no constitutional provision shall be construed as prohibiting the death penalty, with 60% of voters in favor.[1]

Nevertheless, Massachusetts capital punishment statute was struck down in 1984 as a violation of due process, because it allowed a death sentence only when the defendant had pleaded not guilty. The state legislature passed a statute to reinstate capital punishment in 1986 but it was vetoed by then-governor Michael Dukakis. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference was key in gathering the Senate votes necessary to sustain the veto. In 1997 an attempt by Republican Governor Paul Celluci to reinstate it was defeated by one vote.

Following the homicide of a police officer in Yarmouth in April 2018 and a police sergeant in Weymouth in July 2018, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker stated that he supports capital punishment for defendants convicted of murdering a police officer.[2][3]

Federal crimes committed in Massachusetts may still be subject to the death penalty. For example, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death by a federal court on May 15, 2015, for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing.[4]

See also

Further reading

  • Alan Rogers. 2008. Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.


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