CHICOPEE, Mass. — The Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates split last week on reinstituting the death penalty, as they debated in a region of the state still shaken by a serial killer’s admission in the murder of nine women.
Hampden District Attorney William Bennett said this week that Alfred Gaynor of Springfield had admitted being responsible for five more slayings on top of the four killings for which he was convicted in 2000. The murders traumatized the region during the mid-1990s.
Both Republican Charles Baker and independent candidate Timothy Cahill said they support reinstituting the death penalty, while the incumbent governor, Democrat Deval Patrick, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein said they oppose it.
All four spoke during an hour-long debate at WWLP-TV, their only debate in western Massachusetts this election year. Besides the death penalty, questions focused on regional issues such as Massachusetts Turnpike tolls, the future of the biomass industry and local economic development.
“Once convicted and decided by a jury that these people should be put to death, I would support it here in Massachusetts, and I think it would be high time to bring it back so people like Mr. Gaynor don’t get away with what he got away with,” said Cahill.
Baker said he favors capital punishment not only for heinous crimes, but also for the death of a law enforcement officer.
“Clearly there are crimes that justify the ultimate punishment,” he said.
Yet Patrick, who said he was involved in both the prosecution and defense of death penalty cases during his legal career, opposes the idea.
“This is a horrible crime, and there are instances of real animals out there committing crimes like this, and for them, I believe death by incarceration is the right outcome,” the governor said.
Stein cited studies suggesting capital punishment is not a deterrent.
“In this case, I think it’s clear that while it would be satisfying in some ways to have the death penalty, we know that it actually does not function as a deterrent, so I would not support the death penalty under any circumstance,” she said. “We also know that mistakes occur and you don’t know until after the fact.”
On another topic, the candidates were united: They all opposed passage of Question 3, the Nov. 2 ballot question proposing to reduce the state sales tax rate from the current 6.25 percent to 3 percent. It would cost the state an estimated $2.5 billion in tax revenue.
While each candidate said he or she would implement the measure if approved by voters, all said it would cut too far, too fast.
“If it comes to pass, then I think I will work very hard to compensate for it by increasing the tax contribution at the high-end, millionaires and so on, and there are many ways to do that,” said Stein.
Baker advocated by cutting the sales, income and business tax rates to 5 percent, but added: “Question 3 would add $2 billion to that problem and that does, indeed, go too far.”
Cahill said bluntly: “Everything would suffer.”
He added: “At the same time, people would get a tax break and they would go out and spend money, and hopefully that would grow jobs.”
Patrick used the question to jab at his opponents.
“We’re talking about the same kind of impact, frankly, as the fiscal policies proposed by my opponents,” the governor said.
The debate was the 15th gathering of at least three of the candidates. Stein has been excluded from some because of lagging poll and fundraising numbers.
The candidates met again Monday at the studios of WCVB-TV for their final debate. It was broadcast statewide by a media consortium.