Manchester senators adversaries in death penalty vote
In this April 17, 2014 photo, state Sen. Donna Soucy speaks in favor of repealing the state's death sentence in Concord, N.H. The senate later voted 12-12, which kept the century old death sentence on the books. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
In this April 17, 2014 photo, state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro is seen during the senate's debate to repeal the state's death sentence in Concord, N.H. D'Allesandro voted against repealing the death sentence. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
The opposing votes cast by Manchester’s two Democratic senators reflect the deep divide of lawmakers and residents on the topic of repealing the state’s centuries-old death penalty.
This year’s death penalty debate revolved largely around slain Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs and his killer, Michael Addison, the state’s only death row convict. The debate was punctuated Thursday by a 12-12 vote, with the tie meaning capital punishment remains on the books.
Manchester veteran Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a political science professor, voted against repeal while first-term Sen. Donna Soucy, a lawyer, voted in favor. They said yesterday they were unconcerned about political fallout in their home districts and their votes reflect deeply held beliefs.
“This vote to me, and I believe to my colleagues, was really an intensely personal, emotional and difficult vote,” Soucy said. “If I was making a calculating, political decision, I would not have voted for repeal.”
D’Allesandro, as a state representative in 1974, voted in favor of a new death penalty statute lawmakers crafted to comply with mandates set out by the U.S. Supreme Court when it invalidated death penalty laws nationwide in 1972. He has never wavered in his support of the penalty in four decades, but he also called Thursday’s vote “gut-wrenching” for all 24 senators.
“We use it judiciously,” D’Allesandro said, contrasting New Hampshire with Texas and other Southern states that have high numbers of executions. “We put something in place that we thought would benefit the public, and I think it has.”
D’Allesandro was the only Democrat to vote against repeal. Two Republican senators, Bob Odell and Sam Cataldo, voted in favor.
Addison was convicted of shooting Briggs to death in 2006 and was sentenced to die in 2008. The state Supreme Court in November upheld his conviction and sentence in the first death penalty appeal to come before it in 50 years. New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939.
Soucy and D’Allesandro spoke passionately about Briggs’s life and death before Thursday’s vote as Manchester police Chief David Mara stood in the Senate gallery amid officers looking down on the debate.
D’Allesandro has two relatives on the Manchester police force, including a cousin who was a first responder when Officer Dan Doherty was shot seven times while pursuing a suspect.
“Briggs was killed in my district. Doherty was shot in my district,” D’Allesandro said. “There have been numerous murders in my district.”
He said he respects Soucy’s vote.
“She’s a very devout Catholic, and I think she did what she thought was right, and I applaud that,” he said.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said he doubts the senators’ votes will weigh against them when they run for re-election.
“Although the death penalty is a very emotional issue for a lot of people, for most voters it’s not high on the list of things they think about coming into a campaign,” Smith said.
He said it could come into play against D’Allesandro in the unlikely event he faces a challenger in a primary. He said he doubted Soucy would suffer any fallout in a primary because she voted along party lines.