NH rejects pardon hearing request in case linked to death penalty repeal

By HOLLY RAMER

Associated Press

Published: 02-21-2024 4:36 PM

CONCORD, N.H. — The Executive Council rejected a request for a pardon hearing Wednesday in a murder case that helped drive the successful push to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty.

The five-member panel voted unanimously without debate to deny the request from Robert McLaughlin, a Hampton police officer who shot his neighbor, Robert Cushing, to death in 1998. He was convicted in 1990 of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life without parole.

The victim’s son, longtime state Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, later led the effort to repeal the death penalty, saying that his opposition to capital punishment only deepened after his dad’s death. He founded Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, and as its executive director, traveled the country speaking on behalf of victims against the death penalty.

“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs and we all lose,” he said on March 7, 2019, when his bill passed the House, three years to the day before his own death from cancer and complications from COVID-19. “That does nothing to bring back our loved ones. All it does is widen the circle of violence.”

Lawmakers later overrode a veto from Gov. Chris Sununu to enact the repeal.

McLaughlin had been a patrolman for 18 years when he killed the elder Cushing over a longstanding grudge. At his trial, McLaughlin admitted shooting Cushing but said he was not guilty by reason of insanity. He argued that he was suffering from depression and panic attacks, and on the night of the shooting, was under the influence of alcohol and the prescription drug Xanax, a sedative.

After exhausting his appeals at the state level, he appealed in federal court claiming he would not have been convicted had jurors known he was taking controversial sleeping pills. A judge rejected that argument, saying he failed to prove his case on several fronts.

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