All Sections

Home  Another View

Another View -- Chuck Douglas: Don't repeal the death penalty; expand it to hate crimes

By CHUCK DOUGLAS
April 10. 2018 10:22PM




In August 1997, a state trooper approached a man named Carl Drega about a possible motor vehicle violation in an IGA parking lot in Colebrook. Drega took a rifle out of his truck and killed the trooper. A second trooper arrived and Drega killed him before he could even get out of his cruiser.

Drega then stole a cruiser and drove to Colebrook District Judge Vickie Bunnell’s office. As the judge ran for an exit after warning others, she was shot to death in the back. Drega then killed the editor of the local paper.

Later that day in various firefights, Drega shot and wounded four more officers before he was killed by law enforcement.

Had Drega only been wounded, he would have faced three counts of capital murder for two law enforcement murders and that of a judge. It is for the Carl Dregas of the world that we have the death penalty. I fully support our limited statute on the death penalty eligible crimes like murder for hire or killing a prison guard, cop or judge while in the line of duty.

Our constitution explicitly provides that someone may be deprived of life as long as it is pursuant to due process of law. Eighteen years ago, the Legislature repealed the death penalty. Then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill, saying:

“The advent of DNA testing reduces the likelihood that innocent people will be convicted of crimes... New Hampshire has an excellent public defender program and our criminal defense bar is among the best in the country... a jury of 12 first must unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed every element of the charged offense. Then, in a separate sentencing phase, the jury must also unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that at least two ‘aggravating’ factors exist, and that the aggravating factors outweigh any ‘mitigating’ factors that may exist.”

Her statement still captures the situation today.

Let’s look at one part of our law. Why include prison guards in the group protected by our law? Because our prison guards do not carry weapons and they work in an extremely difficult and violent environment with nothing but the worst convicted felons in the state. The ratio is often 50 or 60 inmates alone per corrections officer.

If there is no down side for someone serving life for murder, then why not kill a prison guard if nothing changes for that inmate? Would you want to work in an environment where there is no viable deterrent to having your life taken?

The death penalty is an enhanced deterrent over a life sentence. Why is it nearly 100 percent of those convicted murderers subject to the death penalty do everything they can to avoid execution? The Parkland shooter is a good recent example. He wants to plead guilty if he can avoid the death penalty.

After having a trial in which Michael Addison’s lawyer conceded that Addison had shot Officer Michael Briggs and a judge and jury found in favor of capital punishment, Senate Bill 593 would overturn that ongoing judicial process.

Three years ago, when Connecticut repealed the death penalty, its high court pointed out that every state in which this has occurred has canceled all pending capital punishment sentences. As the Connecticut Supreme Court said in State v. Santiago in 2015:

“no state or nation ever has executed someone after a prospective only repeal of the death penalty.”

Why should the Legislature act to interfere in the ongoing judicial process for Michael Addison?

Rather than do that, why not do something to deter murders committed by those motivated by hate because those killers deserve capital punishment.

In recent years we have seen a rise in crimes motivated by hatred of a group’s race, religion or sexual orientation. One of the worst was the 2015 wanton and intentional murder of nine black worshippers at a famous church in Charleston, S.C. Luckily, the federal government has capital punishment for such hate crimes, and Dylann Roof will rightly pay the price for his evil acts.

A year later, 49 people were killed in an attack on a gay nightclub. In August of 2017, in this state an 8-year-old biracial boy was almost killed when some teenagers tried to lynch him in Claremont. Had they succeeded, and if the perpetrators were of age, they should face society’s ultimate price, the penalty of death.

Why should the Dylann Roofs of this world who said “I do not regret what I did,” be spared?

It is time to add hate crime murders to our death penalty statute, not repeal it.

Chuck Douglas is a former Congressman and New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice.


Crime, law and justice Public Safety Social issues State Government Guest Commentary


Newsletter Signup