Dozens testify before N.H. House committees on Marsy’s Law

  • Retired New Hampshire Supreme Court justice Carol Ann Conboy testifies against Marsy’s Law during a public hearing at the State House on April 10, 2018. ALYSSA DANDREA / Monitor staff

  • Gov. Chris Sununu is joined by Bob Marriott (right) whose daughter Lizzi was murdered while a student at the University of New Hampshire. Sununu and Marriott testified in support of Marsy’s Law during a House committee hearing on April 10, 2018. ALYSSA DANDREA / Monitor staff

  • Rep. Claire Rouillard, R-Goffstown, listens to testimony during the House committee hearing on Marsy’s Law on April 10, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Bill Greeley wasn’t notified when the man convicted in 1975 of killing his sister, Lee Ann Greeley, jumped a wall at Concord’s prison for men and was on the run for two weeks.

Instead, Greeley told the House Criminal Justice and Judiciary committees Tuesday that he read about what had happened in the local paper after convicted murder Clifford “Edgar” Avery Jr. was found hiding out in a construction site trailer in the city.

“After enduring the loss of my sister and working with my family to try to put the pieces of our lives back together, I can tell you that not much scares me anymore,” Greeley testified though tears. “But the thought of that monster showing up at my doorstep or harming another member of my family terrifies me.”

Greeley was one of several people who recounted personal stories of hardship and re-victimization as a result of their participation in New Hampshire’s criminal justice system. They did so while speaking in support of Marsy’s Law, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow victims and their families the opportunity to be notified of pretrial and post-conviction hearings, and to be heard by a judge or the state’s parole board.

Avery was granted parole in 1988 following a hearing that took place unbeknown to the Greeley family. A few years later, Avery was charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy. The case ended in a hung jury, but his parole was revoked regardless.

The series of events still haunts Greeley today.

“Having enforceable constitutional rights would’ve at least made sure that the parole board had all of the relevant information before releasing a dangerous predator back into society,” he told members of the House.

Victims who testified Tuesday in support of Marsy’s Law said they simply want to be seen and heard; they realize that their input may very well not change the course of a case at all, but at least equal protections under the Constitution would give them a voice in the process.

While proponents of Marsy’s Law say a constitutional amendment would ensure fair treatment for all, opponents argue a detailed amendment to the Constitution is unnecessary when New Hampshire has some of the strongest victims’ rights laws on the books.

Retired New Hampshire Supreme Court associate justice Carole Ann Conboy, who testified against Marsy’s Law for the first time, said she disagreed with the proposed amendment’s all-encompassing definition of victim. A person is not a victim in the legal sense until a defendant is convicted, she said. She added that someone may have clearly suffered harm, but to call him or her a victim pre-conviction conflicts with the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

“The way that this proposed amendment is structured, I think it’s inconsistent with our state Constitution,” Conboy said.

Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi said he respectfully disagreed with Conboy about when an initial determination is made that someone is a victim. Police officers make a determination at the time of an arrest, and prosecutors uphold that same theory when they pursue the criminal case, he said.

While New Hampshire has a Victim Bill of Rights, a defendant’s constitutional rights often prevail when the two come head-to-head, Velardi said.

“Frankly, I’m getting tired of explaining to victims of crime and survivors of crime that you are important and one day I’ll be able to assert these rights in a court of law,” he said.

Thirty-five states have victims’ rights incorporated into their constitutions in some form. Just a handful of those states have passed the more detailed amendment known as Marsy’s Law in the past decade.

The state’s Department of Justice recommended in 1993 that victims rights be incorporated into the Constitution, but that recommendation was followed by decades of inaction, according to Gov. Chris Sununu.

“We haven’t really done anything,” he said. “The fact that we have so much support today finally emphasizes with an exclamation point that this is an issue that requires some leadership to finally get it over the line.”

Under Marsy’s Law, victims of felony and misdemeanor crimes would be afforded the same basic rights. Because the Victim Bill of Rights includes only felony-level crime victims, opponents have expressed concern about a dramatic increase in the number of individuals and entities eligible for victims’ services at the local and state levels.

Rep. Paul Berch, R-Westmoreland, asked Sununu whether those additional costs have been calculated, and where the money would come from.

“This constitutional amendment should not be considered on its cost,” Sununu replied. “This constitutional amendment should be considered on the value it would be providing its citizens.

“If all you want to look at is the cost of dollars, that’s the old way of doing things,” he continued. “Government has to take a bigger stand than that.”

The constitutional amendment requires supermajority support in the House for it to be placed on the ballot in November. Voters must endorse the measure by a two-thirds majority.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)