But by 2005, lawmakers had again begun to turn away from the death penalty. Some cited human error and prejudice among reasons to steer clear of reinstating it.
"Errors have been made and will continue to be made," Rep. John Keenan, a Democrat and descendant of one of the victims of the Salem witch trials, said during debate over the bill.
Even Romney conceded the possibility of human fallibility during a public hearing on the measure.
"A 100 percent guarantee? I don't think there's such a thing in life. Except perhaps death — for all of us," Romney said, although he described the proposal "as foolproof a death penalty as exists."
Others saw political motives in Romney's efforts.
"There was no way the Massachusetts Legislature was going to pass a death penalty bill," state Rep. David Linsky, a Democrat who opposed Romney's bill and had helped investigate or prosecute about 25 murder cases as an assistant district attorney, said in an interview. "It was all about setting up his future conservative credentials outside Massachusetts."
Others, including many Republican and moderate Democrats backed the measure, however. But the bill was defeated on a 99-to-53 vote in the House after more than four hours of impassioned debate.
Not all the criticism of Romney's proposal came from death penalty foes.
Some conservatives said his plan was so narrowly drawn and had so many layers of safeguards that it would be virtually impossible to carry out an execution under it.
Now running for president a second time, Romney hasn't spent time touting the death penalty proposal. He prefers to focus the debate on the issue his campaign believes offers him the best chance of winning in November: the economy.
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