NH legislature passes death penalty repeal

by Reilly Olinger | 4/23/19 2:10am

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Following the November 2018 midterm elections, both houses of the New Hampshire legislature have secured a veto-proof majority that will allow for a repeal of the death penalty.

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On April 11, the New Hampshire Senate voted 17-6 to repeal the death penalty. With the House passing an identical version of the bill, House Bill 455, last month in a vote of 279-88, the legislature has the necessary two-thirds majority to override a potential veto from Gov. Chris Sununu (R). If approved, this will make New Hampshire the 21st state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty, following Washington in September 2018.

HB 455 would change the state’s punishment for capital murder from death to life imprisonment without parole. Last year, the House and the Senate both voted for the repeal but did not have the necessary votes to override Sununu’s veto. Following last November’s midterm elections, in which Democrats gained control of both chambers, the House and the Senate acquired the necessary majority.

The state hasn’t executed an inmate in 80 years and currently has only one inmate on death row — Michael Addison. Addison was sentenced to death in 2008 for the 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Although the repeal would not apply retroactively to Addison, Mark Chase, president of the New Hampshire association of chiefs of police, believes that Addison’s sentence will soon be converted to a life sentence. He added that death penalty in New Hampshire has only been used rarely.

“We have a pretty good record of not just throwing [the death penalty] around,” Chase said. 

New Hampshire currently permits the death penalty under certain circumstances: murder of a member of law enforcement, a judge or a prosecutor while in the line of duty; murder committed during a robbery, aggravated felonious sexual assault or kidnapping; murder related to drug offenses; contract killing; and murder after already being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren) said he is not in favor of the death penalty and believes that the current circumstances that merit the death penalty are not equitable.

“We place a greater value on the lives of certain citizens than others,” he said. “An ordinary citizen’s life being taken isn’t worth the death penalty. I have a problem with that. A life is worth no more or less than any other.” 

Giuda said his decision to support the repeal comes as a result of his Catholic faith as well as what he calls his “consciousness” of the imperfections of the American legal system. He said he is concerned with the discrepancy of legal capabilities between the poor and the rich, the politics of death penalty trials and the frequent exonerations of people on death row. 

“It is better that nine guilty men should live than one innocent person should be put to death,” he said.

Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye), shared the same concern for potentially innocent people being put to death. In addition to the moral cost, he expressed distaste for the monetary cost of the death penalty. Millions of dollars are spent on appeals and trials, according to Sherman. He additionally noted that New Hampshire does not have a death chamber to conduct executions and would need to build a new one for any future executions. 

“I can think of a number of places where that money is better spent,” he said.

Sen. Harold French (R-Franklin), Giuda, Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) and Sherman all said they believe that the repeal will have few tangible effects on daily life in the state but see symbolic and moral value in the repeal. 

“It creates a moral and ethical standard for our state that is clearly the high ground in how we treat people and how we value life,” Sherman said. 

Hennessey added that many people find the death penalty to be antiquated and logically unsound. 

“[The death penalty repeal is] absolutely necessary and long past time,” she said. “I don’t see why we kill people who kill people to tell them that killing people is wrong.”

French believes that Addison will soon be serving life in prison rather than facing death but said that he believes a lifetime prison sentence is enough of a punishment. 

“[We would be] doing him a favor by putting him to death,” he said. “We have a motto in the state: Live Free or Die. Who wants to live in a six-by-nine foot box forever because of what you did? Gives you every day of your life to realize why you’re there.”