CONCORD — The state’s death penalty may be headed to death row after the House approved repealing the state’s capital murder statute 225-104 Wednesday.
Gov. Maggie Hassan supports repeal; the only obstacle remains the state Senate, where the vote is expected to be close.
Repeal supporters said the death penalty has not been a deterrent to murder and values the lives of law enforcement and judicial officers over other citizens.
“It is time to join the civilized world,” said the House’s newest member, Rep. Latha Mangipudi, D-Nashua, “where we are not looking for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
But opponents said the penalty does act as a deterrent. Repealing it would put police officers at greater risk and dishonor the memories of those killed in the line of duty, such as Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, who was gunned down by the only man on death row, Michael Addison.
Others said there are crimes so heinous that no other punishment is appropriate.
“How quickly we forget the Mont Vernon murder,” said Rep. Jeannie Notter, R-Merrimack, who said she visited the Cates home where Kim Cates was killed and her daughter maimed. “I know a lifetime in jail is not justice for a crime like this.”
The last change to the state’s capital murder law was to expand it to include murder committed during home invasions, inspired by the Cates case.
House Bill 1170’s prime sponsor, Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, is a longtime advocate for repealing the law. Cushing, whose father was shot and killed by an off-duty Hampton police office in 1988, co-founded the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights in 2004.
“If we let people who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs,” Cushing said. “The death penalty doesn’t do the one thing we all want: to bring that person back.”
Rep. Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, attempted to expand the death penalty through an amendment to add murdering a child 12 or younger to the capital murder statute, but the House defeated it on a 247-83 vote.
Murphy said New Hampshire has strict requirements, with a 12-point checklist a jury must address before deciding if a murderer should be executed.
“This isn’t Texas or Arkansas,” Murphy said. “We are not executing prisoners every week. We reserve it for the worst of the worst, as we should.”
The House also defeated an attempt by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, to convert existing dealt penalty sentences to life–without-parole, which would have commuted Addison’s death sentence.
Vaillancourt said it would be hypocritical to vote to abolish the death penalty and not commute Addison’s sentence.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Vaillancourt told his colleagues. “You can’t be for abolishing the death penalty and for killing one person.”
Vaillancourt’s amendment was killed 245-85.
Hassan reiterated Wednesday that she would oppose commuting Addison’s sentence.
Under the bill passed by the House, Addison’s death sentence does not change.
The state has not executed anyone since 1939.