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Sununu follows through on promise to veto repeal of death penalty

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 21. 2018 12:18PM
Surrounded by law enforcement, Gov. Chris Sununu signs a veto of the death penalty repeal bill passed by the state legislature. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Surrounded by police officers and relatives of murder victims Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a repeal of New Hampshire's seldom-used death penalty.

No one has been executed in New Hampshire since 1939 and there is only one killer now on death row — Michael Addison, convicted in the 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs and sentenced to death in 2008.

Addison's fate was often a part of the debate in the Legislature. Opponents argued repeal would spare Addison's life, repeal advocates said it would not. In the end, the the House voted 223-116 in April to repeal, followed by a 14-10 Senate vote to repeal in March.

Sununu repeatedly pledged to veto the repeal as it worked its way through the legislative process.

"While I very much respect the arguments made by proponents of this bill, I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates for justice in opposing it," Sununu said. "New Hampshire does not take the death penalty lightly and we only use it sparingly."

Sununu handed the pen he used to sign the veto to Laura Briggs, the widow of the slain Manchester officer.

"In the most heinous cases when the death penalty can be imposed, New Hampshire is second to none in protecting the rights of defendants and ensuring a fair process," said Sununu. "I believe New Hampshire can continue to apply the death penalty in a sparing, just and fair manner."

Sununu pointed out that governors of both parties have either opposed repeal or expanded the scope of the death penalty. In 1998, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a repeal bill and in 2011 Gov. John Lynch signed a bill expanding the death penalty to include murders committed during home invasions. Lynch and Shaheen are both Democrats.

"To repeal the death penalty in its entirety would deprive future victims of the justice they deserve," Sununu said.
Supporters of death penalty repeal say victims and law enforcement are more divided than those selected to attend Sununu's veto ceremony.

"Many murder victim family members in our state paid a very painful, harsh price for the right to tell Gov. Sununu that we don't want killing in our name," said state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was murdered in 1988. "The reality is that the death penalty does not do the one thing we wish it would do: bring our loved ones back."

Cushing led a petition drive with six other murder victim family members who delivered 55,000 signatures to Sununu's office in support of repeal.

A two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting will be needed to override Sununu's veto of SB 593. Votes in both chambers suggest an override is possible. The Senate was two votes short of the 16 votes needed. The House would need about 254 votes total to override the veto were all 385 representatives currently in office participating.

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