William F. Buckley
The governor of Massachusetts, no less, has announced his intention to restore the death penalty. He promised to do this in his election campaign, and has set up a commission to devise legislation that would guard against any possibility of executing an innocent defendant. He would recommend capital punishment for only three types of crime: those associated with terrorism; those involving the killing of police officers, prosecutors, judges or trial witnesses; and "heinous" crimes, defined as multiple killings or murders done with extreme brutality.

It is by no means predictable that the legislature will go along, the nationwide trend being in the other direction. Massachusetts hasn't executed anybody since 1947, the 20th anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, who went to the chair proclaiming that they were innocent, which they were not.

Gov. Mitt Romney's initiative comes only a few days after the release of Kathy Boudin, a parole decision that has inflamed the police community in New York and others who believe that her release dishonored the community's obligation. This debt was to the two police officers and the Brink's guard who were murdered when Ms. Boudin, her lover and other members of the Weather Underground robbed a Brink's armored car and shot their way out of an ensuing encounter with the police. Ms. Boudin pleaded that it hadn't been she who had actually pulled the trigger, and got less than the 75-year sentence given to her lover, the father of their child (who has just graduated from Yale and won a Rhodes scholarship), and the three other participants.

Some months ago my help (in the form of a signature on a petition) was solicited on behalf of Boudin. The little committee that would present its petition to the parole board pleaded what one would expect: She had been in jail for 22 years; she was a model prisoner; she convinced everyone she was in touch with of her genuine remorse; if released she would be in lifelong parole requiring regular check-ins and restricting her travel. I signed that petition for her release. If 22 years ago I had been asked to sign a petition recommending capital punishment for Ms. Boudin et al. I'd have done that too.

The two positions are not contradictory. If you believe, as the families of the victims of the robbery believe, that society owes to its members the ultimate protection from murder, then capital punishment raises its august hand, the most solemn form of retribution against the killer of innocent people.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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