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House panel says no to language change in death penalty statute

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 01. 2012 7:56PM

CONCORD - A state House committee has unanimously recommended that the full House kill a bill that would have expanded the death penalty to include murders which are considered "especially heinous, cruel, or depraved."

'We decided that the language was very subjective,' said Rep. Elaine Swinford, R-Center Barnstead, chairwoman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee said of House Bill 1706. 'It would have put an undue burden on prosecutors and the attorney general.'

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ross Terrio, R-Manchester, who found out about Tuesday's committee vote when a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter informed him Wednesday night.

'Really?' he said. 'I wish (the committee) had given me a chance to amend it. I didn't even know they were going to' vote on the bill.

Terrio said he partly blames the state Office of Legislative Services for drafting a bill that committee members said was too vague. For example, it would have covered murders with "circumstances that are especially heinous, cruel, or depraved" without providing any definition of what that meant.

'I told (OLS) that I was a little concerned that it was too broad and vague,' Terrio said. 'I wish OLS had drafted it tighter and more clear. I also wish (the committee) had maybe given me the chance to rework the bill.'

Terrio said he was trying to close what he said are some loopholes in current state laws covering capital offenses. The state's death penalty is narrow in scope, covering several crimes, including killing a police officer, murder for hire and killing someone during a rape, drug dealing or a kidnapping. Most recently, the death penalty was expanded to include murder committed during a burglary or home invasion.

'Right now, if I kill you while robbing you in your home, I could get the death penalty. If I kill you while robbing you on your front lawn, I don't,' Terrio said. 'If someone is killed during a rape, they get the death penalty. If they get killed while being tortured, no death penalty.'

He said he will try again to pass an expansion of the death penalty in the next legislative session should he be reelected in November, but he likely does not have Swinford's support.

'I don't believe they need to do anything with the death penalty,' Swinford said, asserting that she was expressing only her personal opinion and was not speaking for the committee. 'I don't want to expand it or ever take it away.'

The state has executed 24 people since the executions of Penelope Henry and Sarah Simpson on Dec. 27, 1739, on murder charges. The last was in 1939. The state now has one convict on death row, Michael Addison, who murdered Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

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