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New Hampshire considers banning life without parole for juvenile

Associated Press
Published: 3/10/2021 9:44:06 PM
Modified: 3/10/2021 9:44:04 PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire juveniles convicted of homicide would no longer be sentenced to life in prison without parole under a bill before a House committee on Wednesday.

The bill would bring New Hampshire in line with 23 states and Washington, D.C., that already have enacted similar legislation, said Preston Shipp, senior policy counsel for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

The list includes neighboring states like Vermont and Massachusetts, he said, but also conservative states across the country.

“Texas was one of the first states to abolish life without the possibility of parole for kids,” he told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “They basically said if a kid is too young to vote, too young to sign a contract, too young to serve on a jury or in the military, that person is too young to be condemned to die in prison.”

Many states have made the shift since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to mandatory life imprisonment without parole, and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that five men who received such sentences for murders they committed as teenagers should be re-sentenced.

Steven Spader was resentenced to life without parole after refusing to attend his hearing or authorize his attorneys to argue for a lesser sentence. Michael Soto was later resentenced to 25 years to life, Eduardo Lopez got a new sentence of 45 years to life and Robert Dingman was resentenced to at least 40 years.

The fifth case, involving Robert Tulloch, part of a duo who killed Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop at their Etna home in 2001, is on hold while appeals filed by Dingman and Lopez are pending before the state Supreme Court.

Under the proposed legislation, a juvenile could still receive a life sentence, but parole would be a possibility.

“This bill does not guarantee the release of any offender, just a review after a reasonable period of incarceration with an individualized assessment of the unique circumstances,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland. “It allows the victim’s family and friends to possibly evolve their own thinking about what a just and compassionate sentence might be.”

No one testified against the bill.

Among those speaking in support was, Moira O’Neill, the state’s child advocate.

“Sentencing a child to life without parole even for a crime of homicide runs contrary to what we know about the developing brain of children,” she said. “The brain continues to grow and mature through early adulthood. Reasoning and critical thinking capacity evolves as the brain grows, and we know that children are more susceptible to influence given their developmental capacity.”




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