Death Penalty Doomed?
N.H. House Votes To Repeal State’s Law
Concord — After two hours of often emotional debate, the New Hampshire House overwhelmingly passed a measure to repeal the state’s death penalty Wednesday after rejecting an amendment that would have spared the life of the state’s only convict on death row.
The House voted 225-104 in favor of repeal. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she supports repeal as long as it is does not upset the death sentence of Michael Addison, who was convicted of killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. The bill passed Wednesday applies to future cases and would not, if signed into law, affect Addison’s death sentence.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, argued for an amendment that would have spared Addison’s life by applying repeal to anyone already sentenced to death. He said those who vote for repeal without including Addison aren’t really abolishing the death penalty.
“You just want to score a cheap political victory,” Vaillancourt said. “We sell our souls if we don’t pass this amendment.”
The amendment failed by a vote of 245-85. Another amendment to retain the death penalty and expand it to the murders of children ages 12 and under failed by a similar margin, 247-83.
Vaillancourt later said he voted for repeal, but called is passage “a hollow victory.”
Bill sponsor and Hampton Rep. Renny Cushing, whose father and brother-in-law were murdered in separate incidents, said a long-time family friend told him hoped his father’s killer would “fry.” Cushing said the friend assumed the murder had shaken Cushing’s opposition to the death penalty. It hadn’t.
“That would only give more power to the murders, more power to the killer,” Cushing said. “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, evil triumphs, violence triumphs.”
Cushing has been lobbying to repeal the death penalty for 16 years.
Those who spoke in opposition to the bill invoked the names of the worst of the nation’s serial killers and the horrific 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion in which a mother was hacked to death with a machete and her young daughter was maimed. They questioned what would deter a convicted killer from committing another murder behind bars if the death penalty is repealed.
Concord Democrat Marry Jane Wallner argued for repeal, citing the ongoing cost of the Addison case. “One death penalty case will probably cost the state upwards of $8 to $10 million dollars,” she said.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court in November upheld the constitutionality of his death sentence, but must now weigh whether his death sentence is fair when compared with the sentences meted out in dozens of other cases in which an on-duty police officer was killed. The ruling marked the first time the state’s highest court has reviewed a death penalty case in more than half a century. The state’s last execution was in 1939.
Repeal advocates lauded passage of the bill.
“I applaud the diligent, respectful work of the representatives and pray the same spirit will fill the Senate in the weeks ahead,” said Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.
The Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment in 2000, but then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill.