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The death penalty: What of victims' rights?

March 03. 2018 5:17PM

The same New Hampshire Legislature that seems gung-ho to amend our state constitution, ostensibly to protect victims' rights, is also considering eliminating the death penalty. What is wrong with this picture?

We have long held that the death penalty should be abolished only if and when life imprisonment for pre-meditated murder actually and without exception means life imprisonment, period.

But that is not the case. Memories fade, victims' families move or give up, prison and parole officials cite how the murderer has become a "model prisoner." Motions are made for pardons.

That "model prisoner" phrase is a beaut. Becoming one earns the individual an easier time behind bars. If it can also win eventual freedom, it isn't heavy lifting.

But the murderer's victim, or victims, remain dead. Their families or friends or fellow officers have to get on with their lives. The victim's "rights" - with or without the so-called "Marsy's Law" - may be no match for a persistent effort to play on the sympathies of a public or politicians decades removed from the time and memories of the crime.

New Hampshire has rarely meted out the death penalty, which is now restricted to a certain few and specific types of murder. There is one inmate currently facing that penalty. Would he be included in a repeal? Would it be cruel and unusual punishment not to do so?

If lawmakers could find an ironclad means to ensure all such killers would stay behind bars for the rest of their natural lives, then the punishment might fit the crime. But that's a huge "if."

Until it happens, let's stick with New Hampshire's law as is.

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