Senate overrides Sununu to end death penalty in New Hampshire

  • Protestors gather outside the Senate Chamber prior to a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord on Thursday. New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, became the latest state to abolish the death penalty. AP

  • State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton (right), embraces state Senate President Donna Soucy after a vote to repeal the death penalty Thursday.

  • State Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Hillsborough, right, is congratulated following a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, May 30, 2019. New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, on Thursday became the latest state to abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override the governor's veto. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • State Senate President Donna Soucy announces the tally following a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, May 30, 2019. New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, on Thursday became the latest state to abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override the governor's veto. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • N.H. Sen. David Watters, D-Barrington, Dover, Rollinsford, and Somersworth, pauses after the tally was announced in a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, May 30, 2019. The death penalty was repealed in New Hampshire immediately after the state Senate cast enough votes to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • State Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Hillsborough, addresses the chamber during debate prior to a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, May 30, 2019. New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, on Thursday became the latest state to abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override the governor's veto. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester/Goffstown, addresses the chamber during debate prior to a vote on the death penalty Thursday at the State House in Concord. AP

  • Rob Spencer (center) of Concord pauses in prayer as legislators debate prior to a death penalty vote at the State House on Thursday. New Hampshire, which hasn’t executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, became the latest state to abolish the death penalty. AP photos

  • Barbara Keshen (center), chair of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, awaits the Senate vote on the override of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto to end the death penalty in the Senate gallery on Thursday, May 30, 2019. To her left is Meredith Cook from Roman Catholic diocese of Manchester. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Barbara Keshen (center), chair of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, awaits the Senate vote on the override of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto to end the death penalty in the Senate gallery on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/30/2019 11:09:24 AM

New Hampshire repealed its death penalty Thursday, becoming the 21st state to do so amid a national shift against the policy and an emotional two-decade campaign to end it.

Speaking to conscience over party, a two-thirds bipartisan majority of state senators voted to override a veto from Gov. Chris Sununu and strike the penalty from the books. House Bill 455 removes the words “may be punished by death” for those convicted of capital murder, leaving only the possibility of life without the possibility of parole.

“Today, I will vote to override the veto of our governor,” said Sen. Harold French, a Franklin Republican. “Because this vote is about our state and about what kind of state we are all going to be a part of.”

Repeal opponents lamented the result as a rebuke of law enforcement and a boost to New Hampshire’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison. In a statement Thursday, Sununu expressed remorse.

“I have consistently stood with law enforcement, families of crime victims and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty because it is the right thing to do,” the governor said. “I am incredibly disappointed that the Senate chose to override my veto.”

The decision, made quickly after brief but passionate debate, came after a decades-long run-up. Since 1998, state Rep. Renny Cushing has pressed for the abolition of executions in the state, submitting legislation every year to varying success.

But only in recent years – as DNA exonerations and botched lethal injections have grabbed headlines – has public opinion begun to turn. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll found support at historic lows, following long-term downward trends. Meanwhile in New Hampshire, an infusion of Democrats in the Legislature in 2018 buoyed the effort, allowing lawmakers to narrowly overcome Sununu’s veto.

On Thursday, dozens of activists, most in favor of repeal, crammed into the Senate upper-floor gallery. When the result was reported, they cheered.

For some, the repeal reverberated personally. For Bess Klassen-Landis, a Windsor, Vt., resident who has been active in repeal efforts in Hanover, it was a milestone on a traumatic journey that started at age 13.

That year, Klassen-Landis’s mother was killed during a home invasion in Indiana. The killer was never found. The crime took decades for her to process.

“I had a lot of hate inside of me,” she said. “No one was ever convicted in her case, so it was easy for me to just send this hate out to someone who could do such a vile act.”

It wasn’t until she met other victims, at age 55, that Klassen-Landis found the virtue of forgiveness. It applied to her, even without a name to forgive.

“In my mind, I still had to face this villain,” she said. “It was finally realizing the education around the death penalty (that changed things). ... It is complete vengeance.”

Few opponents of repeal showed up for the vote, whose outcome had been made likely by an earlier vote in which 17 senators voted to repeal.

But the decision attracted a sharply emotional debate. In a series of pleas, some senators sided with the governor, arguing that the prohibition served as a deterrent for the murder of law enforcement and provided justice that life imprisonment cannot.

“We need to support police officers,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican. “They need to know that we have their backs, and we support them. This is about justice and the people’s will.”

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat representing the district where police Officer Michael Briggs was shot to death in 2006, said the penalty has been used sparingly and appropriately.

“We are very careful in how we use the death penalty,” he said. “We are very judicious and very careful.”

And he invoked the Briggs case to ask for patience. Briggs’s killer, Michael Addison, is New Hampshire’s only death-row inmate; many have speculated that his sentence could be commuted with the passage of repeal.

“I’ve had Officer Briggs’s family in school,” he said. “The Briggs family will never be the same. Never, ever be the same.”

But others argued repealing it was a matter of individual conscience.

“This question will be answered, but not by political philosophy or alliances, but by lifetimes of individual experiences that we all carry with us,” French said.

The vote followed an equally narrow vote in the House, which voted this month to override the veto with no votes to spare.

The repeal takes effect immediately, and according to the statute applies only to capital murder convictions from May 30, 2019, and onward.

Moments after the vote, supporters crowded the outside of the Senate chamber. Advocates embraced. Cushing, joined by family members, received a line of hugs from senators and citizens.

Klassen-Landis wiped away tears. “It’s almost hard to believe,” she said. “Because it’s been such a long haul.”




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