N.H. House supports death penalty repeal, sends bill to Senate
State Rep. Rennie Cushing speaks on the house floor in favor of repealing the state's death penalty Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. The House voted 225-104 in favor of repealing capital murder. The measure goes to the Republican-controlled Senate next where it faces an uncertain future. NH (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
The New Hampshire House voted yesterday to repeal the death penalty, but it did not support an amendment that would have taken Michael Addison off death row by making the bill retroactive.
The bill, which passed on a 225-104 vote, will now move to the Senate, where its fate is less certain. Anti-death-penalty groups have been focusing their attention on individual senators for months.
“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor. Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, has been fighting for years to repeal the death penalty.
“If I changed my position on the death penalty because my father was murdered, that would only give more power to the murderers . . . not only would my father be taken away from me, but so would my values,” Cushing said.
New Hampshire allows the death penalty for six types of murder: murder of a law enforcement official; murder for hire; murder during a rape or sexual assault, a home invasion or kidnapping; and murder while serving a life sentence in prison.
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, highlighted the costs of pursuing a death sentence. Addison’s case already has cost the state $2.4 million for his prosecution and $2.6 million for his defense. In contrast, the average annual cost of housing an inmate is $35,000, she said.
“Ask yourself, ‘Is this the best use of taxpayer dollars?’ ” Wallner said.
Supporters of repeal gave many reasons for their views. Some said they do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent, and others said it is applied unequally. Opponents said some crimes are so awful that perpetrators deserve to die. Repealing the death penalty also offers no further punishment for people who kill in prison while already serving a life sentence, which opponents said is a problem.
“As difficult as it is for us to comprehend or discuss, there are people out there who find happiness and satisfaction for doing evil things to people,” said Rep. Keith Murphy, a Bedford Republican.
Murphy introduced an amendment that would have extended the death penalty to murderers of children under age 12. It was defeated, 247-83.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, then introduced the amendment that would have made repeal retroactive. It also was rejected, 245-85.
Addison is the only person on death row in New Hampshire, and Vaillancourt’s amendment would have instead given Addison life in prison without parole. The state Supreme Court is currently weighing whether Addison’s death sentence should stand – a sentence he received for the murder of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is likely to support a repeal bill, but has said she would not commute Addison’s sentence.
Vaillancourt questioned the logic of supporting repeal but still executing Addison.
“How can you look yourselves in the mirror, the huge majority of you that just voted for (Murphy’s) amendment, the 247 of you, and say, ‘Oh yes, I really want to abolish the death penalty’?” Vaillancourt asked.
Rep. Jeanine Notter, a Merrimack Republican, urged her colleagues to remember the 2009 murder of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon. That murder prompted the Legislature to pass a bill in 2011 extending the death penalty to include murders during home invasions.
“A lifetime in prison is not justice for the most brutal of murders,” Notter said.
But, after nearly two hours of debate, supporters of repeal were successful. Rep. Latha Mangipudi, a Nashua Democrat, was one of the last repeal supporters to speak.
“I would urge my colleagues to support this so we can join the civilized world and are not looking for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” she said.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)