Capital punishment in Massachusetts

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev inside the holding cell of a federal courthouse.

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.

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 punishmentin 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[edit]


  1. ^ "Massachusetts Death Penalty Constitutional Status, Question 2 (1982)". Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  2. ^ "In wake of Sean Gannon's killing, Gov. Charlie Baker 'supports the death penalty' for cop killers in Massachusetts". Advance Publications. April 18, 2018. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  3. ^ Croteau, Scott J. (July 18, 2018). "Discussion of death penalty for cop-killers reemerges after shooting of Weymouth Sgt. Michael Chesna". Advance Publications. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  4. ^

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