'Cates: Death is justice, not vengeance'

Last modified: 2/2/2011 12:00:00 AM
On Oct. 4, 2009, Kimberly Cates was murdered and her daughter Jaimie maimed in an apparent thrill killing at their Mont Vernon home.

Due to the narrow construction of New Hampshire's statute, defendants in the case were not eligible for the death penalty. Yesterday, Cates's husband, David Cates, urged a House committee to expand the state's capital murder law to cover murders during home invasions.

"I'm not seeking vengeance. It has no bearing on my case," Cates said. "I am seeking justice for the next family whose lives could be changed forever."

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on two bills that would expand the death penalty. Most of the attention focused on the "Kimberly Cates bill" sponsored by House Speaker William O'Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican. In addition, Manchester Republican Rep. Phil Greazzo sponsored a bill that would make anyone who "purposely causes the death of another" eligible for the death penalty.

"We can't bring Kimberly Cates back," O'Brien said. "We can't send these young men to the fate they so deserve. But we can give a clear message to those who would think of doing this again . . . that this is such a horrific act that your community and your state will respond with the strongest, most definitive punishment that it can avail itself of."

Democratic Gov. John Lynch, in a letter to the committee, said he will support the bill. Lynch said New Hampshire is kept safe by tough sentences for murderers, including a death sentence for the most heinous crimes.

"Our state has used the death penalty statute judiciously and cautiously, as is appropriate, and changes to the law should be carefully considered," Lynch said. "I believe that murder committed during home invasion fits the category of crimes that should be included in New Hampshire's death penalty statute."

The death penalty now applies to a handful of circumstances, including murder of a police officer, murder for hire, and murder while committing a kidnapping or sexual assault. New Hampshire's last execution was carried out more than 70 years ago, and the state recently prosecuted two death penalty cases. One resulted in a death sentence for Michael Addison, who murdered a Manchester police officer. The sentence is under appeal.

A study commission, on a narrow 12-10 vote, recently recommended the state keep its death penalty statute as is. But supporters of O'Brien's bill argue perpetrators of a crime as heinous as Cates's murder deserve death.

"We all consider our homes to be a sanctuary," said House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, a Salem Republican. "The idea that someone could beak into someone else's home then commit murder in such an extraordinary and evil manner is a breach of our values. It deserves the harshest punishment available."

Sen. Jack Barnes, a Raymond Republican, is the bill's only Senate sponsor. Barnes testified that as a Korean war veteran, he knows what it means to kill.

"If unfortunately (this bill) had to apply to someone, I'd be more than happy to be the one who gives the injection or pulls the gallows or whatever it means to put a person to death," Barnes said.

Several families of murder victims delivered testimony about their own experiences. Cates urged committee members to think about the grisly details of his wife's murder and his daughter's injury by a knife and machete.

"Close your eyes and imagine how scared they were as dozens of stabs and slashes were delivered with razor-sharp blades to their helpless bodies," Cates said. "My wife and daughter weighed less than 100 pounds apiece and were no match for a bloody onslaught by soulless murderers."

Cates talked about the fear his wife must have felt being awoken by her assailants and not knowing if her daughter was dead.

"I'm sure in the last moments of her life, the thought of her daughter lying next to her dead was more than she could bear," Cates said. "She drifted off with hopes of seeing her on the other side."

Cates said he believes the death penalty is a fitting punishment for murders committed during a home invasion.

"A small number of acts are so heinous that death is the only penalty that truly fits," Cates said.

O'Brien said the crime shocked the Mont Vernon community.

"Members of my community were stupefied to learn that such a fearful, shocking, intentional act of murder and mayhem would not qualify for capital punishment," O'Brien said.

But other family members testified that they were not interested in seeing the murderers of their loved ones put to death. Margaret Hawthorn's daughter, Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, 31, was fatally shot at her home in Henniker last spring. Hawthorn said she was relieved the murderer would not be subject to the death penalty.

"Another death would only increase my family's trauma and would not bring Molly back," Hawthorn said. "Murder is murder, even when it's state-sanctioned."

Hawthorn said she did not believe revenge would bring her closure. While she said she has not forgiven the murderer, she hopes he can change his path.

"The most positive outcome I can imagine is to see the person put his life to good use in whatever circumstances he is to live it out," she said.

Renny Cushing said his father was shot to death before his mother's eyes in 1988 at their Hampton home. Cushing said he always opposed the death penalty.

"If I changed my opinion, it would give more power to the killers," Cushing said. "Not only would my father's life be taken from me, but so would my values."

Cushing urged the committee to recognize that families of murder victims have differing opinions.

"We've gone through the unspeakable and conclude that ritual killing by government employees does not do anything but fill another coffin," he said.

Several religious leaders also opposed the bill, including representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester and the New Hampshire Council of Churches. Opponents said the justice system is imperfect and pointed to the possibility of an innocent person being put to death.

The attorney general's office has not taken a position on the bill, though Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said the Department of Justice would need more resources to prosecute additional death penalty cases.

Associate Attorney General Ann Rice told the Monitor the cost of prosecuting the Addison case was $1.72 million, not including appeals or post-conviction proceedings that could take up to 10 years. The cost of prosecuting the death penalty case of John Brooks - who was sentenced to life in prison - was $2.35 million.

Those figures do not include the cost of Addison's public defense team. The Judicial Council, which funds the public defender's office, estimated in the bill's fiscal note that the defense and prosecution of a capital murder case could cost the state more than $2.5 million per case per year. Rice said that between 2007 and 2010, there were an average of two cases a year that would have been capital murder cases if O'Brien's bill were law.

Keeping an inmate in prison costs an average of $32,500 per year.

Greazzo's bill, which would allow for a wider expansion of the death penalty, received little support at yesterday's hearing. Greazzo said expanding the death penalty to anyone who purposely causes the death of another is an issue of fairness.

"If someone takes an innocent life, the person no longer deserves their own," Greazzo said. "I'd argue if the death penalty in the state of New Hampshire isn't available to each and every murder, it should not be available to any."

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)


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