Editorial: At last, an end to the death penalty

Published: 6/2/2019 12:05:19 AM

New Hampshire has gained by losing its ability to kill in the name of the state and its citizens. It joined 20 other states and every developed nation in abolishing capital punishment. It joined every other New England state in saying that as a society we won’t allow a murderer to turn us into murderers. It claimed higher moral ground by replacing death with the possibility of change and redemption.

Thursday’s Senate vote repealed the death penalty, replacing “may be punished by death” as the penalty for what was a capital crime with the words “imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole” as the ultimate punishment. It was a vote for civilization over barbarism.

The death penalty, despite arguments to the contrary, is not a deterrent. States that abolished capital punishment have not seen an increase in homicides. Nor are they at risk of killing an innocent person.

To date, at least 165 death row inmates have been exonerated, often thanks to DNA evidence.

In Oklahoma, which has executed 112 people and seen 10 death row inmates exonerated, Marven Goodman, a county commissioner who opposes capital punishment, said: “As a conservative, I wouldn’t trust the government to regulate shoelaces let alone administer a program that kills its citizens.” Humans make mistakes. Systems are imperfect.

Perversely, death penalty proponents, including Gov. Chris Sununu, opposed the repeal because they say the process in New Hampshire has worked. The state last executed someone in 1939. That history is not justification for keeping the death penalty but proof that it isn’t needed.

Many inmates sentenced to life without parole have said they would prefer to die if they couldn’t live free. A life sentence may be the harsher punishment, but it gives a convict a chance to change, a chance to attempt to atone for their crime.

Imposing a death sentence adds $1 million or so to the cost of case, money far better spent on prevention, domestic violence counseling and victim services. The decades-long delay before a death sentence is carried out is cruel to the families of victims, yet necessary to protect against a fatal mistake.

New Hampshire has one inmate on death row, an African American who grew up amid poverty, drugs, violence and neglect. Tried at essentially the same time for a capital offense was a white millionaire found guilty of murder for hire. He was sentenced to life without parole.

The repeal does not directly affect the death row inmate, Michael Addison, but it’s unlikely that his execution will ever be carried out. But is the injustice that a black man who killed a white police officer and was sentenced to execution may instead remain imprisoned for life? Or is it that a wealthy white man who orchestrated the killing of a poor handyman, which was also a capital crime, received a more lenient sentence?

Thanks to the repeal, New Hampshire may never find out, nor suffer the international opprobrium that Addison’s execution would engender.

Lawmakers like Hampton Rep. Renny Cushing and members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty labored for decades to bring an end to capital punishment. They’ve done their state and humanity a great service.




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