Editorial: End the death penalty once and for all

  • Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes a bill that would repeal the death penalty May 3. AP

Published: 5/19/2019 12:05:18 AM

New Hampshire has debated the merits and morality of the death penalty for nearly two centuries.

In 1834 New Hampshire Gov. William Badger became the first state chief executive to call for its abolition. Since then, every developed nation and 20 U.S. states have renounced capital punishment. New Hampshire is poised to join them.

On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of House Bill 455, which would repeal the death penalty and replace it with prison for life with no hope of parole as the state’s ultimate punishment. A Senate vote would then follow.

There are many reasons for lawmakers to do so. Here are just some of them.

The death penalty is final, but humans are fallible. More than a dozen people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, are believed to have been executed despite their innocence. In 2013, Kirk Bloodsworth, a recently discharged Marine who was convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old Maryland girl, met with the Monitor’s editorial board. He was sentenced to death and spent nearly nine years behind bars before becoming, in 1993, the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

In 1997, acting on the advice of then New Hampshire Attorney General Philip McLaughlin, police charged a man for the rape and murder of Elizabeth Knapp, a Hopkinton 6-year-old. DNA evidence proved the charged man innocent. Another man was convicted and sentenced to 60-100 years in prison. McLaughlin is now a prominent death penalty opponent.

This year Concord Reads, the city’s one city, one book program, read Ghost of the Innocent Man by author Benjamin Rachlin, a 2004 Concord High graduate. His book tells the tale of a North Carolina man wrongly convicted of rape who served 25 years before he was cleared, again by DNA evidence. His alleged crime could have been punished with death.

It’s human to make mistakes. No system can guarantee that society won’t put an innocent person to death. Because it cannot offer that guarantee, it should not levy the death penalty. All evidence shows that the death penalty has not and cannot be administered impartially. Sadly, the race of the victim and of the accused matter. Money matters.

Hundreds of studies have proven that capital punishment does nothing to prevent future murders, not of civilians, not of members of law enforcement.

For the third time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977, New Hampshire lawmakers voted to repeal the death penalty. All three efforts were vetoed, the first by then Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and twice by the state’s current governor, Chris Sununu.

New Hampshire’s volunteer Legislature is the most representative body in the United States and perhaps on Earth. It is the voice of the people, and it has again said “No” to the death penalty. Its vote deserves to prevail.

Life in prison, as many inmates have said, is a penalty worse than death. It is not leniency and does not dishonor victims, as many who’ve lost family members to murder have testified.

A state, nation or society that sanctions killing in the government’s name cannot simultaneously be a society that says all killing save in defense of self or others is wrong. Let the bells toll in celebration when the governor’s veto is overridden, and New Hampshire joins all the governments that have come to see that capital punishment is an artifact of a more barbarous past.

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