Death penalty repeal goes back to Senate for reconsideration
CONCORD — By a two-to-one majority, the House reiterated its desire to end the state’s death penalty for capital murder.
The House voted 218-117 for the amendment that repeals the death penalty before voting 226-110 to approve Senate Bill 202 sending the bill back to the Senate.
Last month, the Senate split 12-12 on whether repeal should move forward before tabling the bill. Two months ago, the House approved repeal on a 225-104 vote.
Repeal supporters say lawmakers need another opportunity to vote on the issue after the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, when the lethal injection process went awry leaving him alive until he died 45 minutes later from a massive heart attack.
“The events in Oklahoma warrant giving legislators another opportunity this year to get New Hampshire out of the execution business,” said House Bill 1170’s prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was shot and killed by an off-duty Hampton police officer.
Cushing is the co-funder of an organization of family members of murder victims opposed to the death penalty.
But repeal opponents blamed repeal supporters for the botched execution attempt, saying they convinced European countries not to send effective drugs used in the past to the United States.
“They only need to look into the mirror,” said Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford. “They want to use the tragedy they caused to paint the death penalty as inhumane.”
Others opponents argued the death penalty sends a message that New Hampshire will not tolerate murderers.
“We need something that moves people from thinking ‘Let’s come to New Hampshire and commit murders,” said Rep. Alfred Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. “We also need to protect prison guards.”
He asked what would lawmakers say to families of police officers getting killed around the country if they repealed the death penalty.
“Many families want closure,” Baldasaro said. “They do not want the prisoner sitting in the prisons.”
The repeal bill has been opposed by law enforcement, which packed the Senate gallery when the repeal was debated last month.
Not only does the death penalty save lives, they argue, repealing it could lead to a federal court commuting the death sentence of the state’s lone death row inmate, Michael Addison.
Addison was sentenced to death for murdering Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006.
But others asked how the state could decide who should live and die, when that decision ought to be left to God.
“With the on-going discussion the more we learn about it the more we see why it doesn’t work,” Cushing said. “It’s a kind of a broken system.”
Former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, noted his sister-in-law was murdered, but her murderer was released from prison before his brother-in-law died.
“What assurance can you give us if we get rid of the death penalty, every murderer of a young woman will not be released from prisons in 10 years,” O’Brien asked.
Cushing said he was sorry the killer of O’Brien’s sister-in-law was back on the streets.
“In New Hampshire, life without parole means life without parole,” Cushing said. “The only way to get out is a pardon and that is not going to happen in New Hampshire.”
He said, unfortunately, murders not only claim their victims, they sometimes claim the victims’ survivors as well. The Senate is likely to kill SB 202.