September 25, 2017
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Democratic senator proposes restoring death penalty in Maine

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:
Troy R. Bennett | BDN | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN | BDN
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham

AUGUSTA, Maine — A veteran lawmaker who has been on a years-long crusade against the sexual exploitation of children is proposing to bring the death penalty to Maine for people convicted of killing children victimized in pornographic snuff films.

Snuff films are illegal movies that end in the subjects’ actual on-camera death.

For Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, there isn’t a worse crime, which is the reason for his effort to bring the death penalty to its perpetrators, he said.

“It keeps me awake at night,” said Diamond, a longtime lawmaker and former secretary of state who returned to the Legislature this year after a two-year hiatus necessitated by Maine’s term limits law. “These people need to know that if they do this in Maine, there’s a penalty to be paid, and a very severe one. In my opinion, this is one of the few areas where the death penalty is warranted.”

Diamond, who says he does not advocate for the death penalty in most cases, is still in the process of researching the bill, which is titled An Act to Provide the Death Penalty for a Person who Kills a Child Under 14 Years of Age Under Certain Circumstances. It represents the latest of several legislative efforts by Diamond to fight crimes that involve sexual assault, including his advocacy of a “Jessica’s Law” bill in 2007, which sought to create a minimum 25-year prison sentence for adults convicted of sexually assaulting children. An amended — and from Diamond’s perspective, weaker — version of the bill eventually was enacted and signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

Diamond also is the author of a 2012 book called “ The Evil & the Innocent,” which advocates for tougher consequences for sexual predators, particularly when their victims are children.

Maine put 21 people to death from 1644 until 1887, when the death penalty was abolished after a botched execution, according to Diamond.

The fact that reinstituting the death penalty is advocated by a Democrat is noteworthy. In general, it’s seen as a Republican issue.

“I know too much about this issue to just let it rest,” Diamond said. “At the very least, this bill is going to bring a conversation out in the state. … It’s so creepy, vulgar and bad that people don’t want to talk about it, but they need to know what’s going on.”

As in 2007 on the Jessica’s Law bill, Diamond faces solid opposition from Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, who is the ranking Democrat on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee, which is likely to deliberate Diamond’s death penalty bill before it goes to the full Legislature. Gerzofsky and Diamond have a long history of working together on a range of issues, but not this one, Gerzofsky said.

“I oppose this bill on many different levels and Bill knows it,” Gerzofsky said. “I’m going to fight him tooth and nail on it.”

Aside from his fundamental opposition to the death penalty, Gerzofsky said restoring capital punishment to Maine would be too expensive and unnecessary because the worst crimes committed here already result in life sentences or sentences so long that they are in effect life sentences.

“Over the years, sitting on the Criminal Justice Committee, many of us have said it would be nice to put some of these people out on an island and let them starve to death,” Gerzofsky said. “We’ve all thought those emotions through because we hate the crimes so much. Once the initial emotions start coming away and we start talking about the state putting someone to death, reality kicks in. … If the death penalty deterred anything, we wouldn’t have had any murders since Cain and Abel.”

Diamond will have some support, including on the Criminal Justice Committee from Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, who said he hasn’t seen the contents of the bill but supports the concept.

“I applaud Sen. Diamond for having the courage to take on a very controversial and emotional subject. He’s always been a champion to protect children,” he said. “There are certain things that I don’t think society can tolerate.”

Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Bucksport, who was elected to the Senate in November after a previous stint in the House, is taking over Senate chairmanship of the Criminal Justice Committee. She was noncommittal in a written response to questions from the BDN.

“Whether the legislation as it is currently written is the best avenue remains to be seen, as we must still go through the legislative process,” she wrote.

According to Ryan Jones, a researcher at the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, there have been at least six attempts since 1985 to expand the use of the death penalty in Maine. They include efforts to legalize it for people who murder family members in 2005; for child murderers in 2002; for general use in 1985, 1997 and 1999; and for killers of children and murderers with two or more victims in 1987.

Diamond said numerous lawmakers are asking to co-sponsor the bill and that he is receiving strong support from most of the constituents he has heard from on the issue. He said his bill, which mirrors a federal law already in place, would not mandate the death penalty but instead offer it as an alternative for the courts.

“Child pornography is a billion-dollar industry around the world,” he said. “We need to make a statement.”

 


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