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As promised, Sununu vetoes death penalty repeal bill

  • Defendant Michael Addison talks with a member of the gallery during a break on Oct. 28, 2008, in his capital murder trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester in the death of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs. Addison was sentenced to death in 2008 for Briggs’s murder. Union Leader pool file

  • Flanked by police officers from several departments, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes Senate Bill 593, which would have repealed the state’s death penalty, on June 21, 2018. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff



Associated Press
Thursday, June 21, 2018

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill Thursday that would have abolished New Hampshire’s death penalty, and said the state has an obligation to support law enforcement and deliver justice for victims.

Police officers crowded into his office to watch him veto the bill, as did family members of several murder victims. After he was done, he gave his red veto pen to Laura Briggs, whose husband, Manchester Officer Michael Briggs, was shot to death in 2006. Michael Briggs’s killer is on death row.

“If a person chooses to commit such an unspeakable act in our state, that person should know that a jury of their peers may elect to impose the ultimate justice,” Sununu said. “While I very much respect the arguments made by the proponents of this bill, I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates of justice. New Hampshire does not take the death penalty lightly, we only use it sparingly. ... In the most heinous cases where the death penalty may be imposed, New Hampshire is second to none when it comes to protecting defendants’ rights and ensuring a fair process.”

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies in only seven scenarios: the killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge, murder for hire, murder during a rape, certain drug offenses or home invasion, and murder by a someone already serving a life sentence without parole. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and the repeal bill would not have applied retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Michael Briggs and is the state’s only inmate on death row.

Death penalty opponents argued that courts might have interpreted it differently, however. Others argued that imposing the death penalty doesn’t give victims the closure that repeal advocates assume it would. Laura Bonk of Concord was 23 when her mother was killed and her sister was shot in 1989 in Massachusetts. The killer died of natural causes after spending 18 years in prison.

“When he died, there was no sense of closure or relief. The closure and relief came from the conviction,” she said. “New Hampshire has 100 unsolved murders. I would like my tax money spent on solving those murders for those victims’ family members.”

But Jane Sylvestre of Franklin said she supported Sununu’s decision. She attended the veto ceremony holding a photo of a nephew who was beaten to death in 2015, just before his first birthday.

“The guy that murdered him, all he got was life; he should be dead. I believe in the death penalty,” she said. “These officers that protect us should have a right to go out in the streets and be safe. That’s why crime is so high, no one gets punished.”

Former governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2000. Another Democrat, former governor John Lynch, signed a bill in 2011 expanding the death penalty to cover home invasions in response to a machete and knife attack that killed a woman and maimed her daughter in Mont Vernon.