Bill would impose death penalty for cop killers in Massachusetts

Cop killers could be sentenced to death in Massachusetts under a bill filed by lawmakers who say police are “under attack,” after the state lost three officers in the line of duty in recent years.

“Our law enforcement officers are under attack and under assault,” Rep. Shaunna O’Connell told the Herald. “We need to show our law enforcement officers that we support them, that we stand with them and we need to show criminals that, if you take the life of a law enforcement officer, you’re going to face that same fate.”

O’Connell (R-Taunton) filed a bill with Rep. David DeCoste (R-Norwell) to have the option to sentence adults over the age of 18 to death if they murder a police officer. They were prompted to act by the deaths of Weymouth Sgt. Michael Chesna, Yarmouth Sgt. Sean Gannon and Auburn police officer Ronald Tarentino, who were all killed in the line of duty in recent years.

The Chesna family are constituents of DeCoste, who has long been a proponent of instituting the death penalty in Massachusetts.

“The murder of Sgt. Chesna simply reinforced my belief that juries should have the option of executing criminals who murders police officers,” DeCoste said. “Police officers represent the line between civilization and anarchy. When we start tolerating people who execute police officers, we’re dabbling with anarchy.”

After Chesna died last summer, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “I certainly do support the death penalty for people who kill a police officer, for a lot of reasons.”

Boston-based attorney Martin Rosenthal, who co-chaired the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty in the 1990s when a broad bill almost passed to reinstate capital punishment, said he’s against this bill for the same reasons.

“I yield to nobody in my respect for police officers, but I do not think their lives are worth more than the average person,” Rosenthal said. “The death penalty perpetuates a cycle of revenge and I actually believe that it creates a more violent society.”

A similar bill was filed by Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), who is concerned that society is becoming “desensitized,” to line-of-duty deaths, which increased by 12 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the Law Enforcement Fatalities Report.

“We’re at a point in our nation’s history where they’re actually being targeted as victims. They’re being ambushed, they’re being hijacked, they’re being sought out and attacked, which is something we’ve never seen before,” Dooley said. “I think it should send a chill down everyone’s spine that there are people that are so depraved and so violent that they’re willing to murder a police officer.”

Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association, said that although the death penalty is a “drastic” measure, the hope is that the law would act as a deterrent and wouldn’t have to actually be used.

“We feel that this type of penalty is necessary,” Kyes said. “We need to send a clear message that attacks on police, which also represent an attack on law and order in our society, will be dealt with in a swift and very certain manner.”

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