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Au pair case kills death penalty bill

A bill to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts failed Thursday in the state House of Representatives by a single vote _ a week after it passed by the same margin.

Rep. John Slattery, a Democrat, said he switched his vote from "yes" to "no" after talking to constituents about Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted last week of murder in the death of an infant in her care.

Slattery said his conversations left him "with a deeply unsettled conviction about the possibility of executing the wrong person."

"What happens to these people that we're not sure? What happens to the Louise Woodwards of the world?" he said.

Massachusetts appeared ready to join the 38 others states with capital punishment when House members, many spurred by a month of grisly crimes that left mothers and children slain, passed a death penalty bill 81-79 on Oct. 28.

The bill was then sent to committee to be reconciled with a similar Senate measure approved earlier this month. Acting Gov. Paul Celluci had vowed to sign it.

The Senate has passed a death penalty bill three times this decade, but it always died by a narrow margin in the House.

It did again Thursday, 80-80.

The bill called for allowing the death penalty in murder cases under 15 types of "aggravating circumstances" and included protections for the mentally retarded and a review system to ensure it was not racially discriminatory.

Massachusetts, long considered a liberal bastion, held its last executions in 1947. The state Supreme Judicial Court threw out the most recent capital punishment law in 1984.