Editorial: Governor, end the death penalty

Sunday, May 06, 2018

A society that kills people in the name of its citizens, not in self-defense but as punishment, cannot become a society that sanctifies life. It cannot create a culture in which violence is rare. There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty, but that one is fundamental.

For the second time since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, both houses of New Hampshire’s Legislature have voted to repeal the state’s capital punishment law. The first attempt died in the face of a threatened veto by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. It was a dark hour in the state’s history. New Hampshire is the only New England state to countenance the death penalty, indeed the only Eastern state north of Virginia whose laws call for putting transgressors to death.

This year’s repeal vote faces a promised veto by Gov. Chris Sununu. We urge the governor to let the will of the people, as represented by the majority vote of their representatives, be expressed. He should sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. If he does neither, lawmakers should override his veto. In the House, one more vote would have given repeal proponents a veto-proof majority. In the Senate, just two more votes would have done the same.

John Breckenridge, a Manchester police officer who watched his partner, Michael Briggs, die from a bullet fired by Michael Addison, the only inmate on New Hampshire’s death row, spoke against the death penalty four years ago when the New Hampshire House voted to abolish capital punishment.

“As a Catholic, I could not justify the very pre-meditated act of executing someone who – for all the evil of his crime and all the permanent hurt he caused others – still lives . . . in the possibility of spiritual redemption.”

This year, another former Manchester police officer, Rep. Richard O’Leary, once the Queen City’s deputy chief, voted for repeal. “I don’t believe we have the right under any circumstances, except immediate self-defense, to take a life. Once the criminal has been subdued, arrested, segregated from society and rendered defenseless, I cannot see where the state has any compelling interest in executing him. It’s simply wrong.”

It is also costly. Because he was sentenced to death the state will spend millions to prosecute Addison for Briggs’s murder. That’s money that could be put to far better use. We urge Manchester Sens. Lou D’Allessandro and Kevin Cavanaugh to heed the words of Breckenridge and O’Leary and, if it comes to that, vote to override a Sununu veto. Others who voted against repeal should change their vote and at long last put New Hampshire on the right side of moral history.

Capital punishment is not a deterrent. Putting a murderer to death does not bring a lost loved one back. It rarely brings closure. Decades of appeals that precede an execution force family members to relive the crime.

Human beings, and the judicial systems they establish, can never achieve perfection. Since 1973, 162 death row inmates have been exonerated. The imposition of the death penalty, for reasons of race, mental illness and economic status, is not imposed equally on all and so should not be imposed at all.

A wrongful death committed in society’s name cannot be undone. It’s time for New Hampshire to join the enlightened states and nations that have abolished capital punishment.