Citizen Editorials

Perspectives on Repealing the Death Penalty from Around NH

 

BY Barbara Keshen

January 28, 2016 SeacoastOnline 

B Keshen & Arnie CropSeveral years ago, on a hot July night, a little girl named Elizabeth Knapp was raped and murdered in Contoocook, N.H.

The mother’s live-in boyfriend, Richard Buchanan, became the prime suspect and was charged with first-degree murder. This quickly became a highly publicized case and the N.H. attorney general was being pressured in the press, and by members of the legislature to upgrade the charge to capital murder and seek the death penalty. As a public defender, I was assigned to represent Mr. Buchanan.

The evidence against Buchanan seemed overwhelming. This little girl was raped and murdered just feet away from her mother’s bedroom. She was sleeping virtually inches away from her sister in a very small cluttered apartment. It seemed impossible that a stranger could have entered the home and not wakened anyone. There were no signs of forced entry. And to make matters worse, after over seven hours of intense police interrogation, Elizabeth’s mother told the police that she witnessed Buchanan rape and strangle Elizabeth.

Even I assumed my client was guilty.

However, Richard Buchanan was innocent. The real person who raped and murdered Elizabeth had not worn a condom, and the true killer’s semen was collected from Elizabeth’s body. DNA tests proved that Buchanan was not the assailant and the charges against him were dropped.

Many people believe that innocent people can’t be wrongfully convicted in New Hampshire. It may happen in other places, but not here. But my personal experience tells me that New Hampshire is not immune to human errors, mistakes and snap judgments and that an innocent person could be convicted and executed here for a crime they did not commit.

Richard Buchanan was eventually freed, but I don’t take much comfort in that. In Buchanan’s case, he was lucky that the real assailant had not used a condom. If he had used a condom, there would have been no DNA evidence to exonerate Mr. Buchanan. The jury would have been rightly outraged by the brutality of this little girl being raped and strangled in her own bed and would have likely sentenced this innocent man to death.

I have been a trial lawyer in N.H. for over 30 years, 14 of which I served as a public defender and prosecutor in the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office. During those years I saw my share of mistakes: Incomplete investigations, false confessions, incorrect eyewitness testimony, lab technicians using outdated equipment, and attorneys who misunderstand or mischaracterize evidence. Any of these can lead to unfair results. Well-meaning, educated people, all wanting to do the right thing – and still mistakes get made.

We don’t use the death penalty often here in New Hampshire, but our system is flawed and as long as the law is on the books there is a real risk that we will execute an innocent person.

Barbara Keshen is a former homicide prosecutor for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and currently serves as Chair of The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP). NHCADP has been operating since 1999 and has more than 2500 members. The NHCADP’s leaders include victim families, clergy, law enforcement, corrections officials, former Supreme and Superior Court Justices and former Attorneys General.

Fosters, Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Picture
Rep. Jim Verschueren

In the interest of sharing our thoughts and experiences in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a group of Dover representatives has come together to write this weekly column on a rotating basis. We look forward to your feedback. Please send comments to the writer of each column; contact information below. Thank you.

Votes matter. The most challenging part of serving in the legislature is that almost every national issue gets played out at the State level. All our lives are impacted by which bills come into law and which ones do not.

Three bills that have been acted upon by the House in just these last two weeks dealt with contentious issues strongly argued with passion on both sides.

Repeal of the Death Penalty: House Passes, Senate Disagrees: New Hampshire is the last New England state to retain the death penalty. We have not executed anyone since the 1930s. Yet at this moment there is a man convicted of murdering a policeman and sentenced to death.

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Earlier this session the House had passed a bill to repeal. The Senate disagreed and killed the bill.

Last week the House tried again. We attached the very same bill we had passed earlier as an amendment to a bill the Senate had passed and sent to the House. This is a parliamentary procedure that allows us to encourage the Senate to reconsider by making it a part of a bill that the Senate wants enacted. I come down strongly on the side of repeal as a practical issue.

The action is irreversible. There have been too many mistakes.

There are studies showing that it costs more to execute than it does to keep a person in prison for life. In New Hampshire “life imprisonment” means “life imprisonment,” not a few years in prison, then out for good behavior.

I see no compelling reason to take a life and take the chance we could be wrong.

[letter truncated; remainder deals with other issues]

State Rep. Jim Verschueren
Strafford District 13, Dover Ward 1
Jimv4nh@gmail.com

Death penalty is no protection for officers
Dawn C. Berry, Hopkinton
Concord Monitor, Sunday, May 18, 2014

My heart breaks for Officer Steve Arkell’s family.

Knowing that my son is a police officer, a parishioner came to a meeting at the church asking, “Where is your son a police officer?” I knew what that could mean: a cop died.

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Then I read of the New Hampshire legislative process for the repeal again of the death penalty (Monitor, May 15): “Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican who opposes repeal of the death penalty, also spoke about Arkell. “We are fortunate that the officer’s killer already got the death sentence . . . but the shame is we lost another officer at a home, and almost a second” officer, Baldasaro said. “We need protection.”

Yes, domestic violence is the call to service where the majority of police officers lose their lives. “How are we fortunate” when the perpetrator dies, and a good cop is killed?

Tell me, Rep. Baldasaro, how do you plan to provide protection? Who needs to be protected by your analysis? If it is cops, I would think it would be to restrict weapons and provide better background checks for those who buy weapons.

 Politically, legislators have caved to the NRA. I would think that protection would be to provide for better mental health care and, maybe, look to prevention for children at an early age, if you have vision.
You tell me how, beyond revenge, how the death penalty protects us.

Stiles should reconsider vote on death penalty repeal
Paul M. Wood, Hampton
May 16, 2014

Dear Senator Nancy Stiles,

Prior to your recent no vote on repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, I met with you to urge you to vote for repeal. I asked for your repeal vote despite the fact that my second of three sons was savagely beaten to death and his body dismembered in a Tacoma, Wyo, apartment several years ago. The three perpetrators were captured by a SWAT team and are serving lengthy sentences. The most culpable is eligible for release in 2046 when he will be 74 years of age. My family and I am content that they were not executed.

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In our conversation you stated firmly and repeatedly that you felt that the death penalty was “more humane than incarcerating an inmate in a cell for 23 ½ hours every day.” Apparently neither you nor your staff bothered to verify the truth of that extreme statement. I did.

Shortly after I met with you I spoke with Mr. Jeffery Lyons, the public information officer for the N.H. Department of Corrections and in that call he stated that an inmate serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and behaving himself, would be locked in his cell from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next day. In the 16 hours that followed he would be able to take meals in a dining hall, participate in counseling sessions, work at a job, visit the library, exercise and participate in sports, socialize with other inmates and watch television. Imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole is not a pleasant prospect but it is a just punishment and hardly the cruel and austere picture you painted.

I wonder how you feel about the torturous 43-minute death suffered by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma two weeks ago. Do you think this botched execution of state-sponsored murder satisfied anyone’s need for vengeance?

What about the startling number of releases of prisoners who were found to be innocent and returned to society after serving decades-long confinement for crimes they did not commit. How would you feel if any of them had been executed?

There is no point in my repeating the additional and considered points which Dr. Leonard Korn made in a recent letter to the editor. Let me just say that I agree with him completely and ask you to please reconsider your position and vote for repeal of the death penalty in N.H. at the earliest opportunity. Let’s get HB1170 off the table and into law.

Dream of death penalty repeal still alive
By Leonard Korn
Portsmouth Herald/Seacoast Online, May 7, 2014

Dear Sen. Nancy Stiles,

I watched from the visitors’ gallery in Senate Chambers on April 17 the debate and vote on House Bill 1170 — repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. As a fervent supporter of repeal, I was so hopeful that the time had come for New Hampshire to join all of the rest of the New England states in abolishing this discriminatory, arbitrary, unfair, inhumane practice of state-sponsored killing of its citizens. New Hampshire came close once before, as you well know, when then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a death penalty repeal bill in 2000.

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Death penalty repeal will happen in New Hampshire. I am sure of it. The death penalty is losing favor throughout the United States and the world. It is just a matter of time, but April 17 could have been that historic time.

I watched carefully in particular for your vote, Sen. Stiles, as you represent my town of New Castle as part of our District 24. I had written you just about two days before the vote, outlining why I thought a vote for repeal was the right one for New Hampshire. I was so hoping your vote would be the decisive vote to end the arbitrary discriminatory relic of uncivilized eras past. Your vote, however, we all know now, was no, leading to a 12-12 tie, effectively tabling HB 1170.

The possibility lives, however, for you or any of the 12 senators who rejected repeal to change their minds. HB 1170 can come off the table! That leads me to my dream.

My dream is of you, Sen. Stiles, and Rep. Renny Cushing standing in front of our great state capital building celebrating the historic New Hampshire Senate vote to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire. What a dream! Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and surrounding District 24 and Renny Cushing, state representative of Hampton, survivor of two family members murdered, together finalizing the long effort in New Hampshire to abolish the death penalty.

That is my dream picture. Here are some reasons why I hope you will reconsider your support of the death penalty and make this dream a reality.

A crucial reason always suggested for why we should retain the death penalty in New Hampshire is that it is a just penalty for the “worst of the worst.” With all due respect, this is really faulty reasoning. It is a horrible tragedy when anyone is murdered, whether it is a psychiatrist, a baker or a construction worker, a woman or a man, a husband or a wife, a policeman or a nonpoliceman. Murder is murder, horror to all who care and treasure life and, of course, especially to the families involved. The question really is what is a just and fair punishment for such a horrific crime of first-degree murder.

It is so fortunate we live is such a safe state, with fewer murders than elsewhere. That is true of Maine, also a very safe state, but one that abolished the death penalty in 1887. We don’t need the trouble, the unnecessary expense, the prolonging of suffering, the unfair, discriminatory and, in many people’s eyes, cruel and unusual punishment that the death penalty represents. Life without the possibility of parole is a just and fair sentence for first-degree murder, so much fairer punishment, equal to the crime.

The horribly botched execution in Oklahoma just last week further emphasized the absurdity of New Hampshire and the United States continuing the barbaric process of state-supported murder.

What a confusing image we present to the world to continue state-supported murder of its citizens. I probably need not mention that the only European country that still has the death penalty is Belarus. We are supposed to be a beacon for world freedom, but we are missing this important element.

Then there is the question of how New Hampshire is going to arrange the process of administering the death penalty. We have no such facility in the state, but more to the point is whether we can provide the professionals necessary to administer and supervise the death process. Where is New Hampshire going to find the doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists to find the veins and administer the poisons? Licensed physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and psychiatrists are ethically prohibited from participating in executions by their professional societies. Then there is also the question of the drugs themselves. Where are the drugs going to come from, and can we be assured of their purity? Pharmaceutical companies are now not providing the drugs necessary for medicalized executions. Isn’t there a message here that needs to be appreciated, an action to be taken?

As I have in my prior writings on repeal of the death penalty, may I again recall the final lines of John Donne in his 17th century poem “No Man is an Island”:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

Sen. Stiles, I am sending this letter with my sincere hope that you reconsider your vote on HB 1170. You can be a hero for a very just cause, and your voice will be heard all around New Hampshire and the world. People I speak to about you always tell me you have an independent mind and voice. Please be that voice, please be a hero for a truly worthy cause. We can still have this historic vote and time! Let us see that photo forever in our minds of Nancy Stiles and Renny Cushing at the Statehouse after the historic Senate vote repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty!

len_kornDr. Leonard Korn lives in New Castle and has been practicing psychiatry in Portsmouth for 40 years. He is on the Executive Council of the New Hampshire Medical Society and the New Hampshire Psychiatric Society. He serves as chairman of the NHMS Subcommittee on Violence as a Public Heath Issue and is the immediate past president of NHPS. He is also on the Steering Committee of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

My Turn: Death penalty is often cruel and unusual
By STEPHEN ELGERT
Concord Monitor, May 7 2014

The Eighth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights that was added as a condition to ratifying the constitution by our Founding Fathers.

In part it prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”

This concept is a bedrock principle to our civic society. Even the most ardent supporter of capital punishment would have to admit the recent, badly botched attempt to carry out a state-sanctioned execution in Oklahoma was cruel and unusual in its punishment.

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A little-used three drug combination failed to kill the inmate who eventually went on to die of a stress-induced heart attack. This is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last. It was not a pretty picture.

An inquiry commission will review the circumstances, but preliminary reports seem to indicate that part of the problem was the often difficult job of finding an adequate vein to administer the drugs.

Inmates who have a history of intravenous drug abuse often are particularly challenging in this regard. Technicians who actually administer these lethal drugs are often not well-trained in the art of finding adequate veins.

Anyone who has had an intravenous line “blown” while in a hospital setting can relate to this common problem.

I can remember many late-night struggles as an intern trying to find an adequate vein in sick patients and failing many times.

Established and experienced medical professionals rarely participate in executions due to ethical and moral concerns. One of the reasons that supporters of the death penalty cite is the supposed ease at which it is carried out with intravenous drugs.

This magical thinking is clearly a myth that sounds good on paper, but practical reality belies it as not true. A recent report also estimated that up to 4 percent of all inmates on death row have been wrongly convicted.

All of this should give our lawmakers pause in their ongoing deliberations regarding the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Our Senate recently deadlocked on this important decision. I would urge senators to re-examine their reasoning and reconsider this grave decision. No one can guarantee that the state will not cause cruel and unusual punishment with its current law.

Stephen Elgert is a doctor with Elliot Family Medicine at Bedford Village

Use of execution drugs raises serious issues
by Martha A. Hunt, North Sutton NH
Published in Concord Monitor, May 2 2014

On Thursday, April 17th, in a historic and disappointing vote, the New Hampshire Senate voted 12-12 against repeal of the state’s death penalty statute. Maybe it is easy for our senators to think of this decision in abstract terms.

The reality is that New Hampshire is facing the possibility of asking our corrections officers to execute a death row inmate with an untried trio of poorly regulated drugs.  European drug manufacturers refuse to export the drugs previously used in executions.  On Tuesday, April 29th there was a botched execution in Oklahoma, which followed two botched executions that took place in January.

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The use of poorly regulated drugs and the lack of transparency by state governments about their identity and origin raises serious constitutional issues about adequate due process and the use of cruel and unusual punishments.  The first is guaranteed and the second is prohibited by our Constitution.

The repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire should continue to be a trans-partisan issue of the utmost urgency.  I call on our Representatives and Senators to work together to quickly rid New Hampshire of this flawed and broken public policy.

Killing Addison serves no useful purpose
by John Lamperti, Hanover NH
April 29, 2014

On April 17, twelve New Hampshire senators voted to retain capital punishment in the state.  Some may have been influenced by highly visible police support for the death penalty, and feelings about the 2006 murder of Manchester police office Michael Briggs played a big role.  Briggs’ killer, Michael Addison (now 33), has been New Hampshire’s only death row prisoner since his sentencing in 2008.

While many police officers in the state want Addison executed, there is a very significant exception.  Brigg’s former police partner John Breckenridge no longer believes Addison should be killed.  He is right.

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Let’s consider the circumstances in a broader context.

If Michael Addison is put to death, it will be the first execution by the state of New Hampshire since 1939.  During that time there have been hundreds of homicides in the state, 25 in 2013 alone.  Four of those were double murders.  In 2012 there were 19 killings; the year before 25.  Some of these were premeditated murders; Addison’s shooting of officer Briggs while trying to avoid arrest was not.  In 1997  policeman Jeremy Charron – ironically a friend of Michael Briggs – was deliberately shot and killed during a traffic stop.  His killer is serving a life sentence.

It is no disrespect to Michael Briggs to say that his murder does not stand out among the hundreds of others as most heinous crime that alone merits the death penalty.  For me, worst of all was the 2001 killing of my friends Half and Suzanne Zantop, popular and respected Dartmouth College professors, who were stabbed to death in their Etna, NH home by two young men.   The murderers are serving sentences of life without parole and 25 years minimum.

Michael Addison is African-American and has had a miserable life.  Born to an addicted, teen-age mother, he was abandoned by both parents and raised by his grandmother in very difficult conditions.  He had been in trouble with the law all his life.  A born loser, one might say.  Whatever their crimes, wealthy white men are almost never candidates for execution; that is reserved for people like Addison.  New Hampshire is no exception to this rule.

Whether or not race was a factor in Addison’s death sentence, breaking the 75–year moratorium by executing a black man in this mostly white state would arouse suspicion and resentment.  Killing this man would set a terrible precedent, would cost millions more dollars,  and would serve no useful purpose.  It would not be a judgment on him; that has been rendered.  Addison’s execution would be a judgment on the rest of us, and would take New Hampshire backward.

Capital punishment is going to end in New Hampshire; that is the direction of history.  Whether abolition comes sooner or later, the killing of New Hampshire’s only death-row prisoner should not be allowed to happen.

A plea to reconsider death penalty repeal
By Janet Prince, New Calse
Portsmouth Herald/Seacoast Online
April 25, 2014 2:00 AM

In last Friday’s Portsmouth Herald, Sen. Nancy Stiles was quoted as saying that her opposition to repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty was “solidified” when a pro-repeal advocate told her “you just have to respect life.” (“Death penalty upheld in N.H.,” April 18) Given this statement, I fail to understand your vote to uphold the death penalty.

Please reconsider your position so that New Hampshire can join the growing number of states that have abolished this arcane practice.

Sen. Stiles’ lack of logic due to flip-flopping
By Walter Hamilton, Portsmouth
Seacoastline/Portsmouth Herald
April 25, 2014

I want to compliment Howard Altschiller for his excellent column, “Sens. Stiles, Prescott not logical on death penalty,” in Seacoast Sunday, April 20. Sen. Stiles stated that she was for preserving the death penalty due to her belief that a life sentence under New Hampshire’s prison conditions is less humane than an execution. Really? What legislation has Sen. Stiles proposed to lessen the worse-than-death conditions in our prisons? What length of sentence does Sen. Stiles consider so inhumane that prisoners should either be released or executed?

Sen. Stiles could have been honest and said she is a Republican and votes the party line on the death penalty or has always been for the death penalty and always will. Unfortunately, Sen. Stiles tries to be on both sides of important issues, like her votes against, then for, then against, then for expanded Medicaid while saying she is for its death after 2016. Maybe the pirouetting Sen. Stiles will pirouette on the death penalty, too.

On the death penalty, LESSONS FROM SOUTH AFRICA: Post-Apartheid, country made forgiveness the priority
By SINDISO MNISI WEEKS
Concord Monitor, Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Twenty-three years ago, I witnessed my country of South Africa on the brink of civil war. For three-and-a-half centuries, the black majority had suffered brutal oppression under colonialism and apartheid. Now, with the untenability of apartheid finally apparent to the ruling minority, the end of racial segregation was finally in view. Amid gross violence by the state, many black South Africans were inclined toward revenge.

Instead, they put down their weapons and forgave.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable divide between victims and perpetrators of unspeakable violence. To demand justice in the sense of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was unviable: A compromise had to be made to realize apartheid’s end. At the same time, turning a blind eye to the centuries of racial oppression and suffering my people had undergone was untenable, too. South Africa had to find another way.

At the heart of the TRC process was the celebrated South African principle of ubuntu, personally embodied in moral giants like Nelson Mandela and etched in the very language and customs of my (and other) indigenous groups. The notion that human beings are inextricably linked to one another and that every human life has equal value is not unique to South Africa – but there, in the midst of a simmering civil war, it was put on bold display. As a teenager in Johannesburg, I can vividly recall the televised scenes of confession and forgiveness.

How did the death penalty get implicated? The spirit of reconciliation did not end with the TRC. The laws of crime and punishment had to change as well. Protracted imprisonment (especially for political reasons) and capital punishment had long been the order of the day under apartheid. But the democratically elected government under President Mandela and the newly integrated courts chose a different path. Turning to ubuntu, the Constitutional Court put an end to capital punishment in the case of State v. Makwanyane in 1995. The legal – dare we say moral – reasoning the court employed is worth noting as it applies to New Hampshire’s present debate over the death penalty.

In her concurring opinion, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro invoked South Africa’s newly adopted transitional Constitution as “a bridge between a history of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian principles, and a future of reconstruction and reconciliation.” Quoting the Constitution itself, Mokgoro said, “There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization.”

The multiple concurring opinions of other justices described the responsibility of the South African state to set a new example for society. As Justice Pius Langa wrote, “A culture of respect for human life and dignity, based on the values reflected in the Constitution, has to be engendered, and the State must take the lead. In acting out this role, the State not only preaches respect for the law and that the killing must stop, but it demonstrates in the best way possible, by example, society’s own regard for human life and dignity by refusing to destroy that of the criminal. . . . The Constitution, in deference to our humanity and sense of dignity, does not allow us to kill in cold blood in order to deter others from killing. Nor does it allow us to kill criminals simply to get even with them. We are not to stoop to the level of the criminal.”

Fortunately, the United States does not face a civil war like South Africa did in 1994. New Hampshire, to which my husband and I are recently returned from South Africa, is among the safest states in the union. For that we are grateful.

Still, like South Africa under apartheid, the American practice of capital punishment has too often been found to divide American communities along racial and class lines, distinctions we know well. Putting aside America’s challenged past and focusing on the present, studies show that race is still an important factor in deciding who receives the ultimate punishment. According to Time magazine, black defendants are more likely than white defendants to receive the death penalty, and defendants of any race are more likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white rather than black.

As the American Civil Liberties Union reports, “systemic racial bias in the application of the death penalty exists at both the state and federal level.” What’s more, well over 100 people wrongly convicted of murder have been released from death rows around the country after evidence of their innocence emerged since 1973, according to Amnesty International. Nearly half of those wrongly convicted were black – the largest number of any racial group. As Illinois Gov. George Ryan stated after placing a moratorium on executions in his state in 2000, “The system has proved itself to be wildly inaccurate, unjust, unable to separate the innocent men from the guilty and, at times, a very racist system.”

These facts have been mentioned more than once in New Hampshire’s present debate. What is perhaps not as often mentioned is that, although America rightly affirms the value of human life in many ways, and seeks to export its democratic principles abroad, it is a blot on her record that she stands with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as having one of the highest rates of execution in the world. New Hampshire has the chance to take a different course and help build America’s moral authority on the world stage.

Ultimately, to those who say the death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous of crimes, I can say that the people who experienced the brutality of apartheid and lost loved ones in the struggle know something of heinousness. In the coming days, our elected representatives in Concord will decide the future of the death penalty in New Hampshire. I hope they will follow the example of Nelson Mandela, and scores of American heroes of reconciliation, by putting capital punishment to death once and for all.

Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is completing a book on dispute resolution by informal justice forums in South Africa as a resident scholar at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Questions on capital punishment? Ask Prof. Gallows

By John Breneman
jbreneman@seacoastonline.com
April 20, 2014 2:00 AM

To help shed light on Thursday’s 12-12 state Senate vote that keeps capital punishment on the books in New Hampshire, today we check in with noted death penalty advice columnist Professor Gallows, who has generously agreed to answer a few questions from readers.

Dear Professor Gallows —

I’m no religious scholar, but I always thought God was quoted as saying, “Thou shalt not kill.” Not, “Thou shalt not kill, unless the person did something unspeakably evil.”

— T.C.

Dear T.C. —

I suppose Easter is a good a day as any to reflect on one of the loopholes mankind has created when it comes to obeying God’s commandments.

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The death penalty is an extraordinarily controversial issue. And the people we’ve elected to decide on our behalf whether it is right or wrong are often faced with a mind-numbingly difficult decision.

For example, here’s what Hampton Republican state Sen. Nancy Stiles said after casting her vote to keep the death penalty in New Hampshire.

“I’ve always felt (capital punishment) was always a good tool to have in the tool box.”

Adding some context to what may sound like a spectacularly unfortunate choice of words, she said, “There are some crimes that are so heinous that it is deserving.”

Further explaining why she believed it was so important to maintain New Hampshire’s ability to kill killers, Sen. Stiles said jailing such a person like a “caged animal” is “not respecting life either.”

If that sounds like some twisted logic, consider the words of her colleague Sen. Russell Prescott of Kingston, who describes himself as “pro-life.”

“I believe life is so important that we need to make sure there are consequences to harming life.”

Try to wrap your head around that one. On second thought don’t. It will make your head hurt.

He appears to be saying, essentially, “I believe life is so important that sometimes we need to terminate it.”

Why he thinks those “consequences” must sometimes involve killing other humans rather than forcing them rot in jail until they die remains unclear.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I’m all for the death penalty, but a lot of states nowadays use lethal injections and I’m a little squeamish about needles.

— Bernie

Dear Bernie —

Not to worry. According to my research, in addition to lethal injection, New Hampshire law also allows execution by hanging.

At least several states still allow execution by gas chamber, firing squad and, of course, the electric chair.

Also, many other less-civilized countries prefer beheading and even stoning.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I think the death penalty is really terrific. They do it all the time in China, Iran and Texas, why shouldn’t we?

— Jimbo

Dear Jimbo —

Well, for one thing there is powerful evidence that — despite society’s best efforts to avoid this — innocent people have been executed. And it is an irrefutable fact that some innocent people have been sentenced to death only to be — lucky for them — exonerated before the deed was done.

From a historical perspective, folks in Massachusetts back in the 1690s thought they were acting in the name of justice when they hanged a bunch of people proven to be “witches.”

If you prefer a financial argument, executing a person costs taxpayers untold millions of dollars. In most states, death row accommodations are far more expensive than regular incarceration.

But even greater sums are expended on courtroom costs, as most of these doomed inmates file endless appeals.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of government “legally” killing people. But many, perhaps even most law enforcement professionals believe the death penalty is a powerful deterrent preventing criminals from killing cops.

Plus, when you talk about executing heinous criminals who have been sentenced to death for taking a human life, you’ve got to sympathize with the families of their victims, right?

— Marge

Dear Marge —

Absolutely. The voices of those two groups deserve to be honored and closely listened to in this debate, and I can certainly understand why they feel the way they do.

Yet I am even more strongly moved by the story of state Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton, whose father was brutally murdered in 1988. Since then he has become perhaps the state’s most tireless advocate for repealing the death penalty.

“The death penalty would not have brought my father back,” Rep. Cushing has said. He believes that if we allow those who kill to turn us into killers, “then evil triumphs. And we all lose.”

And then there is former Manchester police officer John Breckinridge. On Oct. 16, 2006, his partner, Michael Briggs, was gunned down by Michael Addison, who now sits on death row.

I saw Mr. Breckinridge on television Friday night very somberly explain that — though for a long period after his partner was slain “I wanted to see his killer die” — over time and upon deeper reflection he has come to oppose the “premeditated” execution of even the most savage offenders.

“As a Christian, I have to respect the value and dignity of human life,” said he. “I have to stand up for it.”

Herald columnist and copy editor John Breneman can be reached at jbreneman@seacoastonline.com (Twitter: @MrBreneman).

Abolish the Death Penalty
By Elizabeth A. Trought

Valley News, April 22, 2014

It seems like years ago that I sat in an auditorium at Plymouth State University listening to a few proponents and many opponents of the death penalty discuss its repeal in New Hampshire. I thought at the end of the meeting that abolition was a done deal. I don’t understand the debate! Of course, religious groups gave the moral reasons for abolition of the death penalty.

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However, although this subject does touch many moral strings, I left that meeting feeling that abolition just makes common sense. After all, research has been done showing that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to heinous crimes and, in addition, legal costs for death penalty cases are three to five times more than the cost of lifetime incarceration without parole. New Hampshire has already spent more than $5 million on the Michael Addison case alone. Our tax money could be better spent on victim services and cold cases.

As long as the death penalty is an option in New Hampshire, there is a real and unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person. In addition, the drawn-out court cases and appeals elevate the story of the accused killer while denying victims the healing and closure they need. I am tired of the fact that we remember killers’ names and not the names of victims. Life in prison without parole is adequate punishment for murderers. Let their names and faces fade into obscurity.

Fallacious reasoning and the death penalty debate
by Ray Perkins

Concord Monitor, April 21, 2014

Chuck Douglas’s piece pleading for life for the New Hamphsire death penalty (Sunday Monitor, April 6) “Don’t Repeal the Death Penalty,” was hardly persuasive.

But as a retired educator (and logic teacher), it did confirm my belief in the importance of avoiding fallacious reasoning in public discourse, even beyond the undergraduate level.

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Douglas is concerned that loss of the death penalty will mean “no viable deterrent” to prevent our unarmed prison guards from being murdered by convicted lifers with nothing to lose. But this begs the question (a classic informal fallacy) of whether the death penalty is a “viable” deterrent.

He does try to provide some evidence, and he’s initially careful not to make the dangerous leap from mere association to causation. He correctly notes that the death penalty was “associated with” a drop in the U.S. murder rate in the 1980s. True, but he goes on to embrace a dubious Pepperdine study concluding that the huge decline in the 1990s was caused by increased death penalty executions.

More fallacies: hasty conclusion and questionable cause.

Yes, the murder rate did drop (43 percent), but so did all violent crime (50 percent) – including crime such as aggravated assault (53 percent) and car theft (59 percent). But surely these reductions were not caused by increased death penalty executions!

The explanation is disputed, but a more likely one is a complex of factors including increased police and increased abortions since 1973 (Roe v. Wade) – unwanted children are more prone to crime, including violent crime.

RAY PERKINS JR.

Concord

(The writer is a philosophy professor at Plymouth State University and the author of “Logic and Mr. Limbaugh: A Dittohead’s Guide to Fallacious Reasoning.”)

Letter: Death penalty is barbaric
By: Gerri King
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The most often articulated rationale for keeping the death penalty is to prevent murder or punish murderers.

Execution is murder. Premeditated, at that. The death penalty is not a deterrent. There is still risk that it will mistakenly be used to end the life of an innocent person. And it models that, under certain circumstances, it is okay to kill another human being.

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Is it any wonder that citizens of the many countries who abolished the death penalty decades ago sometimes think of us as barbaric?

GERRI KING
Concord

 

Letter: Principal over politics
By: Dick Ludder
Monday, April 14, 2014

I urge everyone reading this to call their state senator and urge them to support repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire.

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Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson pushed for and achieved passage of the Civil Rights Act against the advice of those in his own party who felt the president’s advocacy for civil rights would turn the South away from the president’s party. Johnson himself knew that would happen but knew the right thing to do was to make civil rights the law of the land. He chose good policy over politics. The New Hampshire Senate should follow that same moral course that Johnson did in 1964 and do the right thing rather than the political thing.

DICK LUDDERS
Weare

 Click for larger view:shurtleff backus LTEs NHSN 4-13-14

Why you should care about the state’s death penalty
By: Thomas Westheimer
Thursday, April 10, 2014

On April 3, my wife and I attended the Senate hearing on HB1170, which would abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire. We heard many testimonies from mainly the “abolish” group, but also from those who feel it is acceptable to use the death penalty.

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I realize I am a novice when it comes to considering this issue as many of the people who testified were current and former police officers, legislators, a former state prosecutor, a former chief justice of the N.H. Supreme Court, and family members who have lost loved ones to murder. What impressed me the most was the number of people of my “senior” generation who used to support the death penalty and who have now changed their position and oppose the death penalty.

Some of the reasons cited that were new or made more clear to me:

Executions take many, many years of trials and hearings, thereby greatly extending any closure for the family members.

Costs to the state are dramatically higher than a life sentence. As of September 2013, the case of Michael Addison, who was convicted in the senseless murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006, has cost taxpayers nearly $5 million.

We are in the company of China, Iran and North Korea as countries that still feel the death penalty is appropriate. New Hampshire is the only state in New England with a death penalty law. We are out of step with modern thinking.

The possibility of making a mistake is unacceptable when the state executes a prisoner. The former attorney realized himself how he was so sure the person “deserved the death penalty” in one case, and later found he was wrong.

The state should not ask employees to perform the executions, and people who act as executioners frequently suffer from mental problems as a result.

Ray Dodge of Jaffrey, a retired police officer, pointed out, “It’s been stated that the death penalty is needed to protect our police and the public. Not only does the death penalty fail to accomplish that, I believe it actually places our police and the public in greater danger. First, it diverts scarce financial resources for providing additional enhanced training for our police so that they may more safely deal with critical tactical incidents. It diverts scarce financial resources from procuring enhanced safety equipment to protect our police, especially equipment necessary to respond to critical tactical incidents.”

The N.H. House of Representatives has passed the bill and the Governor has said she will sign it. I realize some people disagree and respect that, but for me this is a historic opportunity to get “the State which acts on our behalf” out of the business of “Killing People to Show that Killing is Bad.”

Please call or email your senator today as the vote is within days, probably on April 17.

If you are in District 9 — which includes Bedford, Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Lyndeborough, Mont Vernon, New Boston, Peterborough, Richmond, Sharon, Temple and Troy — call Andy Sanborn at 271-8472, or email him at andy.sanborn@leg.state.nh.us.

If you do not live in these towns, find your senator at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/Senate/members/wml.aspx.

Thomas Westheimer lives in Peterborough.

 

My Turn: Does death penalty deter murders? Argument doesn’t hold up
By: MAURICE REGAN
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Occasionally readers of the Monitor are exposed to the writing of someone with the education and experience to think more critically. A recent example is former state Supreme Court justice Chuck Douglas’s column on the April 6 Sunday Monitor Forum page, arguing that the death penalty deters future murders.

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Douglas begins with the argument that correctional officers need protection from murderers who are sentenced to life in prison, as the threat of the death penalty for inmates who kill a correctional officer provides that protection. If Douglas had worked inside the walls with me since the time he left the Supreme Court, he would perhaps understand that sentenced murderers are generally well-behaved inmates. Since prison will be their home for their remaining days, there actually is a deterrent against misbehavior. Lifers are generally accorded relative freedoms and respect inside the walls, and some are eventually paroled or moved to community corrections. I have met no lifers who were intent on making their “forever” home more aversive. Most were rather productive, positive inmates. Some of my favorite inmates, male and female, were convicted murderers.

If Douglas and others who hold this deterrence view were to review the statistics for the past 30 years, “untimely deaths” and assaults in prisons have declined while use of the death penalty has also declined. This decline in prison danger is more likely due to “direct supervision” architecture and management procedures that were developed during this time than the increasingly infrequent use of the death penalty.

Douglas also compares the deterrent effect of a ticket in the case of speeding to the death penalty in the case of some murders. Is he really comparing a violation-level non-crime to a capital-level felony? The mean time to a speeding citation is minutes. The mean time to execution is approximately 10 years. One quarter of condemned inmates die prior to execution. And many condemned inmates have their sentence commuted to life. Michael Addison, New Hampshire’s sole condemned inmate, is more than half way to the mean and no one has figured out the complicated process necessary for his execution.

Douglas further cites a 2007 study by two professors at Pepperdine University revealing a relationship “between number of executions and number of murders in the United States.” This study is so flawed that I used it in undergraduate courses to demonstrate bad research. In fact, the murder rate is declining even as the execution rate is declining.

States without the death penalty often have a lower murder rate than states with the death penalty. Though correlation does not mean causation, absent certain conditions, there is not a lot of support for deterrence when states without executions have lower murder rates than states that do. Delving into this deeper, when Furman v. Georgia suspended executions, and subsequent cases barred the execution of juveniles and the retarded, the murder rate continued to decline.

The only way to determine the cause-and-effect between the death penalty and the murder rate would be an experimental study where capital murders would be randomly assigned to a death or no-death sentence. As a former state Supreme Court justice, Douglas might want to advise us if such an experiment might be unconstitutional.

The death penalty does have value. Execution allows us to spend large amounts of money, better spent elsewhere, to kill someone. It keeps horrible killers, best quickly forgotten, in the news. It helps gets Kelly Ayotte elected to the U.S. Senate by using grieving parents in campaign ads. The death penalty may have value, but no one has established the death penalty is a deterrent.
(Maurice Regan lives in Pembroke.)

 

Ending the death penalty is a step forward
By: John-Michael Dumais
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Among all crimes, murder strikes most deeply at our individual and collective souls. A thirst for vengeance and the desire to deny the killer the right of life that he or she has so callously denied another is therefore understandable. But that raises the question: Do we want to be a society that kills its citizens?

We can hear a call from many victim family members and others in the death penalty abolition movement, however, to go beyond our instinctive response. We can hear a plea to stay the hand that would kill the killer. Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” argues that one act, no matter how egregious, does not define a life, and that everyone should have the opportunity for redemption. Victim family members such as N.H. Rep. Renny Cushing say that if a killer succeeds in taking away our humanity, then we have allowed him to take from us more than just the life of the victim.

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John Breckinridge, the partner of slain Manchester police Offer Michael Briggs, has testified to his journey from hatred and blame to standing for the dignity of every human being, even for his partner’s killer.

Getting rid of the death penalty is in the end not about the murderer; it is about ourselves. Do we value all of life, not just some life, not just “innocent” life? Do we regard killing as wrong except in the most extreme situations where our lives are actively threatened? Does killing a killer to show killing is wrong make any moral or logical sense? Does causing yet another death lead to a higher good? Over the course of lengthy appeals in death penalty cases (13 years on average, and often much longer), how does the unsatisfied need for retribution — or healing — affect our mental health and the quality of life for families and communities that experience homicide?

As reasonable as killing the killer may seem to a part of our brains, there is another part that cannot escape the fact that in executing a killer, we are taking part in the same kind of sociopathic objectification that the killer did when he or she committed the act in the first place. In short, we are taking a multidimensional human being with a family and a history and future — a person with a soul — and turning him or her into an “it” with no inherent value.

Considering her numerous talks over the years, Sister Prejean remarks that no matter how many people might initially have claimed to favor capital punishment, when she confronts her audiences with the prospect of taking full and personal responsibility for killing another human being, very few are willing to be the actual hand that kills the killer. Moreover, the choice to stay our hand when we could do otherwise may offer those who commit murder the first glint of light leading to a new understanding of the incredible gift that life is.

Abolishing the death penalty is not about letting criminals off the hook, but about letting go of the hooks of pain and outrage in ourselves long enough to realize that another killing is not going to bring back our loved ones; it is not going to make our streets safer; and it is not going to set an example for the kind of civilization we want to leave for our children.

Refusing to kill those who kill is a courageous act that affirms and uplifts our humanity and brings us closer to the reality of a nonviolent society.

 

My Turn: The justice system isn’t perfect; a Contoocook murder case shows why
By: Barbara Keshen
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Several years ago, on a hot July night, a little girl named Elizabeth Knapp was raped and murdered in Contoocook. Her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Richard Buchanan, was charged. As a public defender, I was assigned to represent him. Although Buchanan was charged with first-degree murder, I was very much aware that his charge could be upgraded to capital murder because in New Hampshire murder in the course of a sexual assault can be punishable by death.

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The evidence against Buchanan seemed overwhelming. The little girl was raped and murdered just feet away from her mother’s bedroom. She was sleeping virtually inches away from her sister. It was a very small apartment. There was clutter all over the floor. It seemed impossible that a stranger could have entered the home and not wakened anyone. There were no signs of forced entry. And to make matters worse, after hours of police interrogation, Elizabeth’s mother told the police that she, in fact, witnessed Buchanan rape and strangle Elizabeth.

I assumed my client was guilty. How could he not be?

However, Richard Buchanan was innocent. Thankfully the person who raped and murdered Elizabeth had not worn a condom, and the true killer’s semen was collected from Elizabeth’s body. DNA tests proved that Buchanan was not the assailant. The charges against him were dropped.

Amid the debate about repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, some people have said that innocent people can’t be convicted in New Hampshire. It may happen in other places, but not here. Somehow New Hampshire is exceptional. But my personal experience tells me that New Hampshire is not exceptional and an innocent person could be convicted and even executed here for a crime he did not commit.

Richard Buchanan was eventually freed, but I don’t take much comfort in that. We are still capable of making grave errors. Movies and TV shows create an illusion that clever detectives can always find conclusive evidence or that only guilty people confess to crimes or that eye witnesses are always infallible. This is just not true.

In Buchanan’s case, he was lucky that the real assailant had not used a condom. If he had, no semen would have been transferred onto Elizabeth’s body, and no DNA would have been found to prove his innocence. How likely would Buchanan have been to be convicted of a rape and murder he didn’t commit? Very likely.

And if the state had charged capital murder, how likely would the jury have been to sentence him to death? A 7-year-old girl was raped and murdered in her own bed. The jury would have been outraged and rightfully so. Very likely, an innocent man would have been sentenced to death.

Everyone’s entitled to justice

My opposition to the death penalty is rooted, first, in my training and experience as a prosecutor. I served as a prosecutor in the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office from 1985 to 1990, before my time as a public defender. During that period I prosecuted approximately 50 homicide cases.

There is one guiding principle that all prosecutors adhere to: Every person is entitled to justice. People are murdered under the most innocent of circumstances. I once prosecuted a man who killed two children, a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old on New Year’s Eve because their mother broke a date with him. And people are murdered in murkier circumstances. I prosecuted battered women who killed their batterers. I prosecuted people who killed drug dealers in the course of drug deals gone bad. One thing you learn as a prosecutor is not to judge the victim of a crime. You approach each case with the same dedication and intensity, whether the victim was a drug dealer or a 4-year-old girl. Each human being has worth and dignity, and each human being is entitled to justice.

The most compelling illustration of that concept is this: If someone, another inmate or even a corrections officer, were to kill Michael Addison, probably the most reviled man in this state, a man who is sentenced to be executed, an assistant attorney general would be assigned to prosecute the case, and the state police would be assigned to investigate it. They would approach the case with the same professionalism and dedication that they approach any other. They would work as hard as they could to obtain a conviction against his murderer.

Why?

Because even a convicted killer has worth and dignity under the norms of our society and is entitled to justice. That is the prosecutor’s creed and sworn duty.

And for me, a former prosecutor, I could never reconcile the idea that we work to provide justice for every victim because every victim has worth and dignity and yet the government can nevertheless execute its own citizens.

The system is flawed

The second reason I oppose the death penalty is that as a prosecutor and as a public defender for 14 years, I came to see firsthand that the criminal justice system is flawed. It is flawed because it is made up of human beings, well-meaning and dedicated human beings, but human beings nonetheless. Most of the time the system gets it right. Guilty people are convicted and given appropriate sentences. Innocent people are acquitted. Most of the time, but not always.

I believe that I was a fair and diligent prosecutor. I tried hard to be. My fellow prosecutors also were fair and diligent. I believe I was a competent and passionate defense attorney. I tried very hard to be. My fellow defense attorneys were also competent and passionate. But I have no illusions. I was not perfect. Not infallible. And neither was anyone else.

I saw my share of mistakes in more than 30 years as a trial lawyer: incomplete investigations, false confessions, incorrect eye witness testimony, lab technicians using outdated equipment, attorneys who misunderstand or mischaracterize evidence, improper judicial rulings; jury verdicts based on passion. Any of these can lead to unfair results. Well-meaning, educated people, all wanting to do the right thing – and still mistakes get made.

It is true that we don’t use the death penalty in New Hampshire very often. It is true that it is a narrow law. But it is also true that as long as the law is on the books there is a risk that an innocent person will be executed.

(Barbara Keshen of Concord is chairwoman of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.)

 

Letter: Death penalty can’t be applied with total fairness
By: Jay Smith
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Sunday Monitor’s prominent play of Chuck Douglas’s argument that there is statistical support for having the death penalty (“Don’t repeal the death penalty. Executions save lives,” Forum, April 6) does a great disservice.

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I would urge people who believe there is some reality to what he wrote to read a Denver Post article from June 2013 about how few academics think there is any validity in the tortured statistical model used to reach this dubious conclusion back in 2007. It is available at: denverpost.com/ci_23374844/no-credible-evidence-whether-death-penalty-deters-experts.

As to Douglas’s argument that we need to have a deterrent for people already serving life without parole, this misses the mark, too. Prison guards do not all wear halos. The possibility that one would use the opportunity to kill another guard and frame a prisoner is all too real. The power dynamics and the desire we have to believe in the credibility of our law enforcement personnel could lead inexorably to the execution of someone who was innocent in that case. It is a stretch perhaps, but that person could also have been innocent in the case that put him in prison for life and still be working toward finding a way to establish that innocence.

The death penalty will never be applied with total fairness and complete certainty that it is just. And it is irrevocable.

JAY SMITH
Pembroke

 

Death penalty repeal: Now is the time
By: Rep. Donna Schlachman, Frank Heffron, Eileen Flockhart, Steve Briden
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To the Editor:

On March 12, Exeter’s four members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. We joined with other local House colleagues in a strong bipartisan vote of 225 to 104. They included Stratham’s Abrami and Lovejoy, Newfields’ Cahill, Moody and Schroadter, Hampton’s Cushing, Emerick and Muns, Hampton Falls’ Andrews-Ahearn and Khan, and Brentwood’s Comerford. The passage of HB 1170 would ensure that in any future criminal case, the State of New Hampshire would not be in the role of executioner.

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We understand that good people of deep faith disagree on the merits of repealing the death penalty. Fortunately, in New Hampshire we have a very public process to consider and debate all bills that come before the legislature. The vetting of Rep. Renny Cushing’s HB1170 repeal bill is no exception. From Jan. 8 through March 12, HB 1170 went through an extensive hearing and voting process in the House, and on Thursday, April 3 the Senate Judiciary Committee held and all day public hearing in Representatives’ Hall, attended by over 200 individuals. People shared their stories and opinions, including a number of religious leaders, the former chief justice of N.H.’s Supreme Court, fathers of at least two murder victims, as well as other murder victim’s family members.

New Hampshire is the only New England state that still has the death penalty. The bill’s sponsor, whose father was murdered in 1988, spoke eloquently in favor of the repeal during the House and Senate hearings, as he has done on numerous occasions over the past two decades. Rep. Cushing stated that he has never advocated for the death penalty for his father’s murderer because “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, evil triumphs, violence triumphs and things just get worse. The death penalty ‘doesn’t do the one thing that we really want, and that’s to bring our loved ones back.'”

We have heard again and again, from so many angles, that the death penalty does not deter these awful crimes nor does it make us safer.

We in the House have taken a strong position to repeal the death penalty. The Governor has said she will sign it. Our eyes are now focused on the Senate to help New Hampshire do the right thing. The vote will be close and Senators need to hear from all caring constituents. We urge you to join us in this historic effort and call Sen. Russell Prescott (772-4312) or Sen. Nancy Stiles (918-0553) and urge them to vote to repeal the death penalty. Thank you.

Rep. Donna Schlachman, Frank Heffron, Eileen Flockhart, Steve Briden
Rockingham District 18, Exeter

 

N.H. should take second chance to repeal the death penalty
By: Jacob Knehr
Saturday, April 5, 2014

New Hampshire needs to repeal the death penalty and find a new way to punish criminals, because lethal injection is inhumane and too outdated for today’s society.

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The bill to repeal the death penalty for the state of New Hampshire needs to pass and there is a fair chance it will.

Governor Jeanne Shaheen had the opportunity to repeal the bill in 2000, but it took almost a decade-and-a-half for her and the state of New Hampshire to realize the death penalty is too brutal.

There are not enough crimes committed in New Hampshire; or the United States for that matter, that sentence criminals to lethal injection of potassium chloride.

The United States has executed 39 criminals in the past year according to CNN.

This is the second time in two decades that the number of criminals sentenced to death was below 40.

More and more, state representatives are starting to realize the death penalty needs to be repealed.

Three long-time supporters of the death penalty for the state of New Hampshire have changed their minds and voted for the bill to proceed.

The bill now has numerous supporters from state representatives and from citizens of New Hampshire.

The support for this bill will make it more likely to pass, and then New Hampshire can finally join the 18 other states who have abolished the death penalty.

N.H. is the only state in New England that still has the death penalty and something should be done about it.

The current crimes that warrant the death sentence in the state of New Hampshire include murder of a law enforcement official, murder for hire, murder during a kidnapping, drug sale, home invasion or rape and murder while serving a life sentence in prison.

While these crimes should have a serious consequence, the death penalty is not the way to go.

Surely there are other ways that criminals can be punished for their crimes.

If this bill is passed, it will not change the death sentence of Michael Addison who is currently on death row for the murder of a police officer in 2006.

Addison is the only man on Death Row in the state of New Hampshire since 1939.

It does not make sense, because why would we keep Addison’s death sentence if New Hampshire decides that the death penalty is not the right way to go?

The state should find a new way to punish criminals for these crimes and not sentence them to death.

It is understandable that these crimes are inhumane and the ones who committed them should be punished severely. But is New Hampshire doing the right thing by sentencing them to death?

Is New Hampshire any better than the criminals themselves if this is prohibited?

There are always going to be evil people in this world and killing them is not always the right way to go.

We need to find a new way to punish these criminals.

Jacob Knehr can be contacted at jknehr@keene-equinox.com

 

Letter: Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind
By JONATHAN COHEN
Friday, April 4, 2014

When I was in college my grandfather was murdered. It was devastating to me and my family. His birthday was the day after mine, and we celebrated them together every year. When I was in middle school, I had to write a paper about someone I considered a hero, I wrote about him.

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I felt then and continue to feel now that the death of his murderer would accomplish nothing. It would not diminish my loss. It would not diminish the loss of my family. In the next two weeks the New Hampshire Senate has the chance to complete the work the House began by voting to repeal the death penalty. I write to urge the Senate to do just that.

The death penalty is wrong. It is wrong because, at its core, it accomplishes nothing. When we were children, we learned that no matter how hard we tried, we were unable to add two wrongs together to make a right. Somehow when we got older we forgot this lesson. We starting talking about things like retribution, closure and bringing justice to the victims. The premeditated killing of another human is nothing more than a wrong. By no metric is it positive. I urge our lawmakers to do the right thing, the just thing. Repeal the death penalty.

 

My Turn: Death penalty is an instrument of violence, vengeance
By the Right Rev. A. ROBERT HIRSCHFELD
Friday, April 4, 2014

Many Christians are observing the season of Lent. It is a time when we prepare ourselves to contemplate the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. As we approach Good Friday, we are called to consider how followers of Christ, both individually and corporately, have regretfully chosen to participate in and perpetuate the violence and brutality of society. Some of our liturgies on Passion Sunday and Good Friday even call upon the pastors and people to say the words of the avenging and rage-filled crowds that demanded the execution of one they came to hate. Reading the stories of the crucifixion from the Gospels, we answer Pilate’s question about what to do with Jesus by answering, “Crucify him!”

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It’s a painful and starkly honest ritual reenactment of how good men and women are swept up in the same sin and evil that we would otherwise condemn. The effect of this reenactment is to remind us all of how broken, flawed and fallen all of us are. To shout for Jesus’s crucifixion brings us to the abyss that opens between fallen humanity’s grasping for vengeance on the one hand, and God’s infinite passion for love and mercy on the other.

Regardless of how clinically or mechanically it may be administered, the death penalty is an instrument of violence and vengeance that only widens that abyss and further coarsens and contaminates our collective souls.

Over the past several months, crowds of people have come forward in our state to stay something else. The have peacefully, and with dignity and respect for all victims of violence and murder, urged repeal of the death penalty. They do not wish to deny consequences or punishment for brutality and violence. Rather, they say simply that they wish not to participate in, or amplify, brutality and violence. Many of them, like myself, are people of faith.

As bishop, I continue to learn about the blood-soaked history of the Church, where executions were often justified by distorted attitudes about righteous vengeance or retribution in the name of God. It is fitting that the debate regarding a repeal of the state’s death penalty takes place during this season.

Lent is a time of contrition, of changing minds and hearts toward a more civil and just realm – a realm where trust in mercy can bring about a deep healing and true peace that further killing has never succeeded in providing. My hope and prayer is that the state Senate will be led to vote for repeal so that our communities will uphold and restore the dignity of our citizens – dignity that the death penalty callously diminishes.

(The Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.)

 

Voting on death penalty repeal
By: State Representative Jon Manley
Friday, March 28, 2014 (published in print, Tuesday, April 1, 2014)

To the editor:

It has been a very busy couple of weeks at the N.H. House. We have had many big issue bills. The repeal of the death penalty was among them.

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I was eating lunch but thinking about the main bill for the afternoon. At the next table a man was wearing a large button that read: “Killing people who kill people to prove that killing people is wrong, is wrong.” While the logic was clear to me, my gut was telling me that some crimes are so horrific that the criminal deserves to die. I was equally persuaded by both moral sides of this issue. The testimony revealed that in New Hampshire we don’t apply the law on capital punishment equally. We also haven’t actually used it in decades. Any deterrent that it may hold is nearly negated by this fact. Current estimates of the cost to prosecute our one death row inmate ranges to up to 18 million dollars. This is more expense than it costs the ConVal school District to pay all of the teachers to teach all of the children in one year. It costs only a fraction of that to impose and fulfill life imprisonment. What are our priorities?

I rarely enter a vote without a clear mindset of what vote I will cast. Here it was, the vote was called. I had 30 seconds to respond. I stared at the buttons for most of it and then I pushed the button in favor of repeal. In the end, I decided that an ineffective law was not worth the price. Valuable, limited resources should be used where they do the most good.

Repeal passed the House by a good margin. The bill is now on to the Senate where each Senator must face the same decision.

Jon Manley

State Representative,

(Bennington-D)

 

Police wrong on death penalty
By: Charlotte and David Locke
Thursday, March 27, 2014

In response to the commentary “NH police support death penalty” (The Telegraph, March 21).

First, that so few people in New Hampshire have been sentenced to death is evidence of only one thing: That few people in New Hampshire have been sentenced to death.

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Second, contrary to the commentary’s assertion, the Death Penalty Information Center claims – correctly – that 140 people were “exonerated.”

Third, dozens of people have been executed whose guilt is far from certain. The National Registry of Exonerations lists some; the DPIC lists 10 cases, including external references.

Fourth, the commentary says studies claim the death penalty saves lives. A greater number of studies finds the opposite. More accurate seems the study of studies by Donohue and Wolfers, who conclude: “The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence. The reason for this is simple: over the past half century the U.S. has not experimented enough with capital punishment policy to permit strong conclusions … The data are simply too noisy, and the conclusions from any study are too fragile.”

Finally, the writers claim two dozen people convicted but not executed “is evidence that our system … works.” They ignore overwhelming evidence – racial bias, faulty eyewitness testimony, paid informers, incompetent defense, crusading prosecutors – that demonstrates deep flaws in our justice system.

As for the death penalty: it makes no sense – moral or legal – in a system which is less than absolutely perfect, to demand application of the absolute penalty.

Charlotte and David Locke

Amherst

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NH police support death penalty
Friday, March 21, 2014
Editor’s note: This article was co-signed by nine members of the board of the New Hampshire Police Association and represents the official position of that organization.

We felt compelled to respond to the March 9 letter from 16 Nashua-area representatives calling for the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. While we understand that some people may oppose the death penalty for personal and moral reasons, that does not give those people license to misrepresent information related to this controversial subject. Space precludes us from responding to each point, so we will address only the most egregious.

With regard to the claim that 140 “wrongly convicted” persons on death row were later found to be “not guilty,” that claim is put forward by the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty advocacy group. A closer examination shows that this claim is largely false. It fails to distinguish between those who are legally “not guilty” and those that are factually innocent – a crucial and important distinction. For example, if a convicted person won an appeal for a new trial after 20 years and the prosecution declined to retry that person because key witnesses have died, the DPIC would list the person as “exonerated.” That does not mean that the person was factually innocent, legally found “not guilty,” or even “wrongly convicted.”

An objective audit of the DPIC list reveals approximately two dozen people who were factually innocent, yet convicted. Advocates of death penalty repeal tout these people as evidence of the failures of our criminal justice system, when the exact opposite is true. The fact that they weren’t executed is evidence that our system, with all of its procedural and due process safeguards, works.

The claim that “20 innocent” people have been executed is without merit. The holy grail of the anti-death-penalty movement is a demonstrably innocent person who has been executed. No such person has been found since the post-Furman v. Georgia death penalty reforms were put in place and the death penalty was resumed in the U.S. in 1976.

The claim that there is no quantifiable research available that shows that the death penalty deters murders is false. There have been 27 peer-reviewed studies since 1999 (including one by a researcher who admits that he is against the death penalty) that indicate that the death penalty saves lives. This confirms the truism we already know – that all negative consequences deter some. However, that deterrence effect is lost if the death penalty is rarely or never used in cases that warrant it.

The death penalty provides greater protections for the innocent. The accused in death penalty cases have more due process protections than life-without-parole cases. Innocent victims are spared from convicted murders, who, as history has shown, can kill again while in prison, or upon being paroled, escaping, or having their sentences commuted.

The fact that so few people in New Hampshire have been sentenced to death is evidence that the citizens of the state take this matter seriously. The death penalty should be retained until there is clear and convincing evidence that the people of New Hampshire no longer desire it.

The signatories: Keith Phelps, John Yurcak, Kenneth Chamberlain, Robert O’Connor, Patrick Cheetham, George Mallios, Timothy King, Timothy Mone Paul Dean.

 

Death penalty solves nothing, former N.H. Supreme Court justices write
By: Joseph Nadeau and John Broderick , Seacoast Online
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century. Our state is regularly ranked one of the safest in which to live; and by reported crime statistics was the safest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The time has come to embrace New Hampshire history and abolish the death penalty.

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There is no relationship between the death penalty and protection from murderers. Louisiana, a state with 28 executions since 1975, has had the highest murder rate in the nation every year since 1996. Mississippi, with 21 executions, was either second or third during that period. The other states with the lowest murder rates — Hawaii, Vermont, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Iowa — have no death penalty.

We do not doubt that those who support capital punishment do so from a sense of outrage at the horror of murder, and in the belief that executions serve a necessary purpose. We share that outrage, but for us the question must be asked: What purpose is served by executions?

Can the purpose be deterrence, when analysis and experience show that those who kill do not consider the sentence before they act, or do not expect to be caught, or both?

Can the purpose of executions be protection from the killers, when life imprisonment without the possibility of parole provides that protection, and published reports show that no state has ever paroled a person from such a sentence?

Can the purpose be to provide consistency in prosecutions, when the decision whether to seek the death penalty can be so random and so easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure and media attention?

Can the purpose be to achieve fairness, when experience shows that the decision whether to impose death is completely dependent upon the composition of a particular jury and the emotions of individual jurors in each case, and when death is imposed more upon minorities and the poor than on the established and well-to-do?

Can the purpose be to save tax dollars, when it has been well established that to seek and carry out the death penalty costs more than to prosecute and imprison a person for life? And even if an execution might cost less, wouldn’t killing merely to save money be unthinkable?

If, as some argue, the purpose is to honor law enforcement, doesn’t honor come from personal pride and earned respect, rather than from state-sanctioned killings?

If the purpose is to provide justice for victims, isn’t justice served by sensitivity to their plight, by swift apprehension and vigorous prosecution of murderers, by adherence to the constitution, and by fair and impartial trials?

Ultimately, isn’t the death penalty more about retribution than anything else? And even if retribution satisfies personal passion for some citizens, should it justify government executions in the name of all citizens?

Most of us will never feel the loss experienced by victims of murder. We may never know whether the desire for revenge could lead us to support death for a person who murdered someone we love.

Nevertheless, neither of these failings makes abolition of the death penalty any less compelling. We believe there is simply no valid reason for a civilized society to condone the systematic killing of human beings.

Arguments that there are laws to reduce the risk of wrongful execution, or laws to kill in a “humane” way, are not persuasive. In fact, knowing that innocent people have been executed, and that DNA evidence has freed others before execution, is enough for us to abhor the death penalty, irrespective of any arguments to support it. With the most respected judicial system in the world, how can we willingly embrace a sentence that cannot be reversed after it is imposed?

Clearly, murderers must be punished and removed from society. Life in prison without parole does both. It is unnerving merely to contemplate the isolation of life in an 8-by-10-foot cell, the constant mind-numbing sound of steel on steel, the monotony of a regimented daily routine, the demoralizing absence of ordinary freedoms, the gradual dwindling of visitors until there are none, and the eventual loss of hope until a life without the simple joys we all take for granted ends with a lonely death in prison. That is punishment.

Eliminating state executions says nothing about criminals who kill, but it says a great deal about a society that does not. For us, the principle for any killing is the same: The intentional taking of human life, except in self-defense or in the defense of others, is not acceptable no matter who does the killing. Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole.

Joseph Nadeau is an international consultant and former N.H. Supreme Court Justice. John Broderick is UNH Law School Dean and former N.H. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

 

Forgiveness takes precedence over wrath
By Robert Azzi, Seacoastonline
March 16, 2014 2:00 AM

In an early battle in defense of Islam's still-struggling first community in Medina, the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali brought a traitor to his knees and was about to kill him when the man spat in his face. Ali sheathed his sword, knowing that to strike out of anger rather than out of acting for justice would be a sin.

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Don’t strike out of anger.

Next Sunday, I will join an interfaith moving vigil in Hampton to support New Hampshire’s death penalty repeal effort. HB 1170 has passed the House and it’s now with the Senate — please join us!

Many people of good will are engaged in this struggle, Understandings of law, scripture and personal history color our attitudes and responses, and in engaging this debate we must be willing to honor opposition voices even when we don’t agree with them.

For the families of murder victims there must be compassion and understanding — even an understanding that they may wish society to execute the person that killed their loved one. There are few callings as noble, I think, as those which call upon others to sacrifice themselves to protect our communities like the military, firefighters and police. Today, I’ve come to believe that the best way for New Hampshire to honor their sacrifices is not by blood but by further protecting that which they volunteered to protect — justice.

Today, I speak as a Muslim — not for all Muslims — but for myself. I believe we are all called to challenge any state’s assumption that it has the right to extinguish the most precious gift anyone will ever receive — that of life. Reaching this position of support has not been easy and my decision is not supported by some of my co-religionists, whose understanding the Quran may be wiser than mine.

There’s a path scholars, students and believers use in trying to understand God’s revelations. Muslims, for example, consider several steps, like the Quran, Sunnah, Hadith, analogy and precedent, to try and understand God’s message.

We are also guided by reaching into ourselves to connect with our “fitra,” the innate sense of goodness with which all humankind is endowed.

Today, I humbly offer my understanding of what I believe we’re called to do.

God commands us to seek justice and that we should strive for justice to assure that all humanity is judged equally, without regard for riches, religion, status, color, nationality, ethnicity or gender. Justice should be based on forgiveness, mercy and compassion, not on vengeance and retribution. When one is denied justice we are all denied.

Islamic law divides crime into three categories, hudud, qisas (retaliation in kind) and ta’zir (discretionary punishments left to the judge). The hudud are the few crimes specifically mentioned in the Quran and/or Hadith and are generally considered mandatory sentences.

Yet, according to my humble understanding, application of hudud is to be suspended wherever there is doubt or whenever society is destabilized by inequality and injustice.

“Be just: This is closest to being God-conscious.” In speaking of the death penalty for murder, the Quran offers three paths.

First, is execution — an eye for an eye.

Second, blood money, where the murderer’s family offers compensation to the victim’s family. If a sum is agreed upon, the murderer escapes the death penalty but is sentenced to prison by a judge — who may consider mitigating circumstances.

A personal reflection about “blood money.” If the aggrieved family is willing to accept blood money and have the death penalty set aside, it seems to me that rich murderers have a better chance of avoiding a lethal injection or the gallows than a poor person — and that seems to me unjust — not unlike rich murderers (i.e. John Brooks) who have better defense lawyers while poor murderers (i.e. Michael Addison) must be defended by public defenders.

Such inequities result in injustice and imbalance, which is why God offers us a third choice.

Third is forgiveness and reconciliation. The Quran is clear that this is most desired. God tells us in the Quran that those who forgive are higher in the sight of God.

“We sent down the Book and the Balance so that mankind might uphold justice.” Forgiveness, in Michael Addison’s case, means life imprisonment without parole.

If we truly believe in the sanctity of human life then we must accept that life and death decisions are God’s decisions. While some believe that certainty can be reached to justify the death penalty, I believe that God has expectations of evidence and certainty far above our earthly standards — and that our Creator’s levels of certainty are impossible for humans to attain.

There is an important tension between man’s rights and man’s obligations: If a society is unable to, neglects or is unable to provide security and fulfill its duties with regard to each of its members, it has no right to invoke the full sanction of hudud against lawbreakers because the state has failed them and must confine itself to lesser forms of punishment — imprisonment. While this should be true globally, I can speak only for where I live — here in America — where expectations for justice are high.

This is not about convicted cop killer Michael Addison.

It’s about justice. It is about New Hampshire where a white millionaire can order a murder-for-hire and get life in prison and where a poor, uneducated black man is sentenced to die.

Ex-Manchester police officer John Breckinridge, who was slain officer Michael Briggs’ partner, initially supported the death penalty. He changed his mind and recently wrote, “It has not been an easy journey and ultimately I didn’t make the change. I just descended until I hit a humble enough spot in life where all I could do is ask God for forgiveness. He gave it unconditionally. As the receiver of that gift, who am I rob it from someone else? Even my worst enemy.” I cannot with moral certainty find an instance, other than in self-defense, where the state-sanctioned taking of the breath of God is justified.

The Prophet Muhammad said, “When God completed the creation He wrote the following, which is with Him above His Throne: My Mercy takes precedence over my Wrath.”

Let our mercy take precedence over our wrath. We humans, fallible, ourselves awaiting mercy, should be very careful each time we presume to judge the value of another life.

The breath of God sustains us.

Together let us sustain life.

Robert Azzi is a writer and photographer living in Exeter. He may be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com.

Go & Do

Seacoast vigils to support repeal of the death penalty in N.H.

When: Sunday, March 23, at 12:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton

When: March 29 at noon at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church.

Time to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty
By: 16 Nashua-area legislators listed below
March 9, 2014

A repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire is long overdue. Nearly 140 years ago then-Gov. William Badger beseeched the New Hampshire Legislature to rid this state of the scourge of capital punishment. Efforts to do so in the House and Senate were unsuccessful then. More recently, during the legislative session of 2000, the repeal of the state’s death penalty passed the House and Senate, but was then vetoed by the governor.

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We are optimistic that, in 2014, the legislative branch and the executive branch will at last converge and bring an end to the capacity of the state of New Hampshire to engage in “state-sanctioned killing.”

Here are just a few of our reasons for supporting House Bill 1170, an act to repeal the state’s death penalty:

• No adjudicated criminal in New Hampshire has been executed since 1939 – that by hanging.

• Since 1973, more than 140 women and men who were previously on “death row” in various prisons throughout America have been found to be “not guilty” of the crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted.

• During that same time frame, nearly two dozen more have been executed for crimes it was subsequently proven that they did not commit.

• New Hampshire has sought the death penalty in just five cases over the past 70 years, with only one defendant having received the death sentence.

• Costs associated with prosecuting and defending the state’s one death row inmate have already exceeded $5 million. Meanwhile, if that individual loses all of his appeals, the state will need to build a “death chamber,” at an additional cost estimated to be at least $1.7 million.

• Meanwhile there are more than 100 “cold case” homicide cases that have gone unsolved with inadequate fiscal and personnel resources to pursue their resolution.

• Across the United States, racial minorities and those who were unable to afford competent legal counsel have disproportionately been given the death penalty when compared to sentences for similar crimes for higher-income white defendants.

•  Families of homicide victims have explained time and time again that the death penalty has offered them only the repeated re-opening of painful scars, not the help in healing or resolution that was promised.

•  There is no quantifiable research available that demonstrates that there is any deterrent value to a state having the death penalty.

• New Hampshire is the only state in New England with a death penalty law.

As elected Representatives to the New Hampshire House representing Nashua-area voters, we endorse the repeal of the death penalty, HB 1170, and urge our citizens to support this important initiative. Additional information can be found at:www.nodeathpenaltyNH.org.

The signatories: Reps. Jan Schmidt, Sylvia Gale, Paul Hackel, Suzanne Vail, Donald LeBrun, Pam Brown, Linda Gathright, David Murotake, Latha Mangipudi, Marty Jack, Shannon Chandley, Ruth Heden, Brenda Grady, Mary Ann Knowles, Melanie Levesque and David Woodbury.


Pastor: Forgiving son's killer helped healing process
By: JEFF McMENEMY
February 21, 2014

EXETER — More than 30 people braved a mid-afternoon snowstorm that lingered into the evening to hear the Rev. Walter Everett talk about how he ultimately forgave the man who killed his son Scott in 1987.

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Everett, a longtime pastor at the United Methodist Church in Hartford, Conn., who is now retired, told the audience how he received a call from his son Wayne who told him, “Scott was murdered last night.”

His son was 24 at the time.

“No one expects to bury a son or daughter,” Everett said.

The murder occurred in Bridgeport, Conn., and Everett recalled traveling to the police station there in an effort to tell police some information he had learned about the crime, but they couldn’t be bothered to even turn around and face him.

“They were reading the morning paper and drinking coffee,” Everett said Wednesday night during a forum on New Hampshire’s effort to repeal the death penalty.

The anger he felt at his son’s accused killer, Michael Carlucci, also became focused at the police and later prosecutors who told him they had struck a plea bargain deal with the suspect for him to plead guilty to a lesser crime and only serve five years in jail.

But he began to realize the anger he carried inside was killing him and he prayed for God’s help.

“I felt for a long time there was no answer coming,” Everett said during the event at the Exeter Congregational Church.

But finally when he attended Carlucci’s plea hearing, Everett began to feel the healing he had been asking God for when his son’s killer — who he described as a “scrubby-looking guy,” apologized for his actions.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett, I wish I could bring him back,” Everett said.

Everett then began visiting Carlucci in prison, and ultimately testified for him to receive early parole.

The two have stayed in touch and since being released Carlucci has held the same job for 24 years.

“I’m convinced people can change …; for that reason I’m opposed to the death penalty,” Everett said.

The event was sponsored by We The People, and co-sponsored by the Congregational, Episcopal and Unitarian Universalist churches of Exeter, in conjunction with Phillips Exeter Academy and the Water Street Bookstore.

The event also included the Rev. Marcel Martel, the associate pastor at St. Michael’s Church in Exeter and the Rev. Daniel Ferry, a retired Episcopal priest and member of the N.H. Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.

Ferry compared the effort to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire through the hoped for passage of House Bill 1170 to the effort to abolish slavery, first in England and then in the United States.

He noted that 18 states have already repealed the death penalty and the only New England state not to is New Hampshire.

Ferry also argued that the implementation of the death penalty is inherently unfair.

“If you are poor and from a minority community, you are much more likely to receive the death penalty than if you’re white and wealthy,” Ferry said.

He also said prosecuting a death penalty case, like the state is doing with convicted cop killer Michael Addison — who shot and killed Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2008 — is extremely expensive. The state has spent $5 to $7 million on the case.

“Life in prison without the possibility of parole” is enough punishment, Ferry said.


New Hampshire should repeal death penalty
By: NANCY LAMBERT
February 11, 2014

I am writing to urge support for the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire (HB1170). The state of New Hampshire should not be in the business of killing people.

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It is particularly disturbing to kill people in order to show that killing people is wrong. There is much evidence showing that the justice system does not administer the death penalty equally, and poor people and people of color are more likely to be sentenced to death than others who commit equivalent crimes.

Administering the death penalty is much more expensive than life in prison and takes scarce resources away from critical services provided by the justice system.

Research shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent for criminal activity, and chiefs of police rank it as among the least efficient uses of tax dollars for combating crime.

Please support death penalty repeal. The death penalty is wrong and doesn’t serve our state well. For more information, see www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.

State can’t afford inefficient death penalty
By: MATT WILHELM
February 2, 2014

As of September, the case of Michael Addison, who was convicted in the senseless murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006, has cost taxpayers nearly $5 million.

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Life in prison without parole is the mandatory minimum sentence for first-degree murder in New Hampshire. When all is said and done, the average death penalty case costs a staggering $30 million, contrasted with the average non-capital murder trial, which typically runs between $100-200K.

In 2012, both major party gubenatorial candidates – Republican Ovide Lamontange and Democrat Maggie Hassan – pledged to repeal the death penalty. Lawmakers on the left and the right each have their reasons for backing HB 1170 and Gov. Hassan has signaled that she will sign the bill when it reaches her desk.

The state’s death penalty law has been amended eight times in the last 40 years. During that same period, not a single person was executed, yet the state spent more than $4 million on its death penalty apparatus. It’s time that we make one final amendment to New Hampshire’s death penalty law and strike it from the books, once and for all.

We simply can’t afford it.


A statement issued to the The Exchange
By: RAYMOND DODGE
January 23, 2014

My name is Raymond Dodge.  I retired as police chief in 2006 after serving in various capacities for five agencies over twenty-five years.  I am currently a member of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  I know two of your guest very well, Renny Cushing and Arnie Alpert.  I’m sorry to say I only know of your two other guest having never met them, but I’m sure given your programs high standards that they are honorable and decent people and are making great points in support of their positions.

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I had planned to call in, but unfortunately, a last minute issue with a customer precludes my doing that, so I’m submitting this email instead.

While at one time I supported the death penalty, I’ve been in favor of abolishing the death penalty for quite some time now, for various reasons.  Most of those reasons stem from my experience and knowledge of the shortcomings of the criminal justices system, as good as it is.

I want to address a couple of points.  First, that the death penalty is a deterrent.  It is not.  There exist no credible study to show that the death penalty deters crime.  We need look no further than our owns states history to illustrate that point.  Both Liko Kenney and Cullen Mutrie murdered police officers AFTER the well publicized trial of Michael Addison where it was well known that the Attorney General’s Office would seek the death penalty.  Indeed, in Cullen Mutrie’s case, Michael Addison had already been sentenced to death row.  And Michael Addison himself murdered a police officer, despite the death penalty statute.  Moreover, 88% of Criminologist, according to a recent study, do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent.  Deterrence presumes rational thinking.  In my experience, most criminals are not rational thinkers.  They wouldn’t be criminals if they were.  Most don’t stop to consider consequences before acting, a vital component of deterrence.  Most act impulsively, and most believe they won’t be caught.

Secondly, it’s been stated that the death penalty is needed to protect our police and the public.  Not only does the death penalty fail to accomplish that, I believe it actually places our police and the public in greater danger.  First, it diverts scarce financial resources for providing additional enhanced training for our police so that they may more safely deal with critical tactical incidents.  It diverts scarce financial resources from procuring enhanced safety equipment to protect our police, especially equipment necessary to respond to critical tactical incidents.  And, it diverts scarce financial resources from adequately staffing our police to deal with not only critical tactical incidents but to better serve the public in general by investigating and preventing all levels of crime.  These were all deficiencies cited as factors by the Attorney General’s office in their report on the April 2012 Greenland shooting.

I’m too familiar with the budgetary process where I had to argue for every requested dollar.  Despite my best efforts, I often had to settle for less, and did the best I could with what I was allocated.  I often hoped that nothing critical would happen, and fortunately, nothing did.  I had my doubts that my agency was adequately funded and prepared to deal with a critical incident, a very unsettling feeling!

The death penalty also diverts scarce financial resources from programs that might otherwise identify and intervene with individuals to nurture them to become more productive citizens and steer them away from the life of crime.  That’s the best chance at deterrence.  It also diverts scarce financial resources from the Cold Case Unit where many murders remain unsolved, their killers still at large and who knows where amongst us, and their victims denied justice.

The cold hard fact is that with or without the death penalty, there will still be police officer murders and there will still be crime.  So why not give ourselves the best chance at reducing those odds by being more reasonable, rational, and fiscally responsible with administering justice.  The death penalty accomplishes none of that!

Respectfully;

Raymond T. Dodge
Retired NH Police Chief

My Turn: Martin Luther King’s first fight was against the death penalty
By ARNIE ALPERT
January 19, 2014

Bus segregation was not the first issue that grabbed the attention of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when the young pastor moved to Montgomery, Ala., in 1954. His first campaign in his new home focused on a sentence of death for Jeremiah Reeves, a 16-year-old black boy convicted of raping a white woman. Reeves had confessed under duress but later recanted, a claim widely believed in the black community. King joined the NAACP’s efforts to save Reeves’s life.

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“In the years that (Reeves) sat in jail,” King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom, his book about the Montgomery movement, “several white men in Alabama had also been charged with rape, but their accusers were Negro girls. They were seldom arrested; if arrested, they were soon released by the grand jury; none was ever brought to trial.”

Reeves was found guilty by an all-white jury and put to death on March 28, 1958.

Such gerrymandered justice was a well-established fact of life in the South, going back to the days of slavery when blacks were commonly executed or lynched for crimes that drew less harsh punishment – or none – when committed by whites. This discriminatory pattern continued after emancipation, as Stuart Banner documents in his book, The Death Penalty: An American History.

“In the first half of the (20th) century,” he writes, “the southern states punished many crimes by death only if they were committed by blacks; in the second half of the century they accomplished the same result by delegating to all-white juries the discretion to choose capital or non-capital punishment.”

Sadly, the role played by race in decisions about the death penalty persists. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, recent studies “add to an overwhelming body of evidence that race plays a decisive role in the question of who lives and dies by execution in this country. Racial effects have been shown not just in isolated instances, but in virtually every state for which disparities have been estimated and over an extensive period of time.”

A local example

New Hampshire is a case in point.

Michael Addison was charged with capital murder for killing Michael Briggs, a police officer, in 2006.

John Brooks was charged with capital murder for hiring three men to assist him in killing Jack Reid, a handyman, in 2005.

The trials took place in adjacent counties in 2008.

Addison, a poor black man with a prior criminal record, was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Brooks, a white millionaire businessman, was found guilty but spared the death penalty.

Monica Foster, Brooks’s attorney, said of her client after the sentence was announced, “He’s not the kind of people juries routinely kill.”

Racial disparities in the use of the death penalty have been a focus of scholarly research for decades. According to the authors of a 2013 study, “The most consistent and robust finding in this literature is that even after controlling for dozens and sometimes hundreds of case-related variables, Americans who murder whites are more likely to receive a death sentence than those who murder blacks.”

In a study of 445 jury-eligible people across six states which most actively impose the death penalty, these researchers found jurors associate white lives with “worth” or “value” and black lives with “worthless” or “expendable.” That ought to be a wake-up call for anyone interested in the fairness of our judicial system.

Darkness and light

As for King, it is worth noting that his comments on Jeremiah Reeves did not directly reject capital punishment, just “the unequal justice of Southern courts.” As King matured into the leader we honor today, his critique of injustice deepened and blended with a prescription for change.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” he famously said.

King told the world on the day he received the Nobel Peace Prize, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.”

The realization of King’s vision is far off. Abolition of the death penalty would be an excellent step in the right direction.

(Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire director for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization dedicated to social justice, peace, and nonviolence. He serves on the board of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.)


History and geography color arguments on capital punishment
By TIM BUTTERWORTH
January 16, 2014

The arguments in Concord come from the head and the heart, but in the current death penalty debate we’ll mostly decide based on what feels “right.” If we were born in other countries we might be used to public executions in soccer stadiums, or stoning women for adultery, or maybe no executions at all, and any of those could feel right to us.

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Like much of America’s cultural debates, this one has a regional background. Texas executes the most people, about one a month now. Virginia and Oklahoma kill the most per capita. The southern states, the Civil War slave states, are responsible for 85 percent of recent executions. (The Supreme Court stopped executions because of concerns of racial bias, but reinstated them with guidelines in 1976. My data is based on executions since then.)

 If you add the Midwest and high plains states, stretching north from Texas and settled just after the war, you get about 95 percent of current executions. Meanwhile, the nine northeast states from Maine to Pennsylvania contributed less than one half of 1 percent of all executions since 1976.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that slavery and the War Between the States has a lot to do with their acceptance of the death penalty. Look at West Virginia. It separated from Virginia to join the North during the war, and it has had no recent executions. It abolished the death penalty in 1965. Maryland, another slave state that stuck with the Union, just abolished the death penalty last year. There’s also a strong correlation between lynching and executions: Ten of the top 15 lynching states in our history are the top execution states today.

The North-South cultural divide is stark, but we can only guess at the reasons. Perhaps brutal repression of slaves, and then the years of lynching minorities, led to today’s culture of executions. The war itself traumatized the South in a way the North never experienced. Civil War reenactments avoid the atrocities, like the political “cleansing” in Kansas and Missouri. Northern Jayhawks like John Brown massacred pro-slavery people in Pottawatomie and the Osceola, which led to William Quantrill’s southern bushwhackers’ raid on Lawrence, killing 180 men and boys, sacking and burning the city. Later, Sherman’s scorched-earth March to the Sea left destruction that took years to rebuild. Sometimes people get used to war and killing until it starts to “feel right.”

Veterans went west after Lee’s surrender, to the Indian Wars, Texas cattle drives and range wars like those in Johnson County, Wyoming, where the cowboys were often from Confederate states, and the ranchers were northerners. The Jesse James gang started out as southern bushwhackers, and just kept going.

Our best literature reflects our history and culture. The central theme of most Western movies concerns lynchings or executions. Instead of dry social science textbooks, you might start with the 1891 classic “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a story of the quick military hanging of a Southern plantation owner. The author, Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce, a Union Army veteran, suffered from alcoholism and probably PTSD, and wrote short stories sympathetic to Confederate soldiers.

Owen Wister invented the Western with his 1902 best-seller “The Virginian.” The central crisis comes when the Vermont “schoolmarm” finds out the Virginian cowboy she loves has lynched some cattle rustlers on the orders of his boss, the judge:

“Judge Henry,” said Molly Wood …, “have you come to tell me that you think well of lynching?”

He met her. “Of burning Southern negroes in public, no. Of hanging Wyoming cattle thieves in private, yes.”

In his own defense, the hero just says he’s never killed anyone “for pleasure or profit.” Since 1976, Virginia has executed 109 people, Vermont none.

A 1940 novel of cowboy justice gone wrong, “The Ox-Bow Incident” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, is set in 1885, a year in which the U.S. had 184 lynchings.

In “True Grit,” the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, Mattie Ross hires a bounty hunter to avenge her father. She tells us he rode with Quantrill in Bleeding, Kan., and that he was “hired by stock owners to terrorize thieves … I fear that Rooster did himself no credit in what they called the Johnson County War.”

Today, in some regions of the U.S., executions are still real, not fictional, but not here in New England. New Hampshire hasn’t executed anyone since 1939. This year our legislators will decide whether we will join the 18 other states — mostly the states we fought beside 150 years ago — that have abolished the death penalty. I hope they respect our historic culture as well as the debating points.

 Tim Butterworth of Chesterfield is an associate of the Institute for Policy Studies

Ex-police officer Breckinridge: I choose life – for myself and Michael Addison 
By JOHN BRECKINRIDGE
January 15, 2014

I’m a Catholic. Like most Catholics these three words have meant very different things on a journey that has taken me to places I never could have imagined and never would have desired to go.

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I was born in Andover, Mass., at a time when Sunday best still meant something. Many women still wore dresses and veils to church. Men wore suits, and people still carried Sunday missals. By high school in the late 1970s the world and everything in it was more casual. I involved myself in youth group and T.E.C. (Teens Encounter Christ). I made memorable trips to Camp Fatima in New Hampshire and formed good relationships with local priests whom I remain in touch with today. My faith was active, if unchallenged.

Then, like many young people, when I moved away to college I left religious practice at home. This is ironic since the place I came to school was Saint Anselm College in Manchester, and the opportunity to deepen my faith had never been greater. I didn’t wage a protest against my religion or even actively retreat from it. Like many people at that age I just let it fade away without much of a struggle.

Meanwhile, the road before me unfolded in the usual ways it does for a young man doing the things he is supposed to do. I majored in psychology and began a career as a social worker to help people. I fell in love, got married and had kids. Then I became a Manchester police officer. Being a cop challenged me and offered me a shared sense of purpose that most people never experience on the job. It also showed me every day for 22 years the very worst in human beings.

I had already fallen away from the Church and now, one incident report at a time, I was steadily losing faith in humanity. Like most cops I acquired a tough and resilient veneer that concealed a mounting cynicism and anger. When my wife asked me how things went at work, I’d say, “Fine.” When my children misbehaved I’d snap at them. I’m sure I thought that I was leaving my work at the station, but the sort of depravity and pain you see each day as a police officer isn’t easy to shut away in your locker at the end of the shift. Instead you tend to lock it away inside, where, if you aren’t careful, it can steadily corrode you from within.

I figured I was careful. I enjoyed great camaraderie on the force, good relationships with good men and women, and even some fun along the way. When I bothered to think about it, I still recognized that God existed, but I had a hard time reconciling a belief in a loving God with the sort of things I saw in the city on a daily basis.

Oct. 16, 2006

Then in the very early hours of Oct. 16, 2006, something happened that nearly everyone in New Hampshire knows well enough to tell their own version of the story. Here’s mine.

At about 1:45 a.m. my partner, Officer Michael Briggs, and I received a report of gunshots fired in a second-floor apartment on Lake Street. After investigating the apartment, we decided to check a lead before returning to the station. We rode our bikes east on Lake Avenue, then north on Lincoln Street to Litchfield Lane, neither of us considering when we entered that alley that it would mean the end of Michael’s life and an irrevocable change to my own.

The details of what happened next are all part of official court records and are the sort of thing we have all seen too often on TV, only there would be no happy ending at the end of the episode. After approaching and commanding a hooded suspect to stop three times, Briggs was shot at close range. I watched him fall, drew my weapon and shot four rounds at the fleeing man whom I and the rest of New Hampshire would come to know as Michael Addison, who today resides in the Concord state prison as an inmate on death row.

On the morning of Oct. 17, Michael Briggs died for simply and bravely doing his duty as an officer. In the days, weeks, months and years after that fateful night I traveled on a dark, downward spiral. I hated Michael’s killer. I hated every criminal I saw. I hated the crimes they committed and the pain they caused. I drank. I drank more. I hurt my family. I hurt the friends who tried to help. When the trial started in 2008, any healing that might have occurred before that was shattered as I was forced to confront Michael’s killer, relive every horrid detail of that night under the scrutiny of the court, and watch Michael’s family continue to suffer.

Around that same time there was a commission appointed to study the death penalty in New Hampshire. I attended and listened to the anti-death penalty people carry on about the costs and impracticality of the penalty, its disproportionate application to minorities. I was infuriated! I had watched Michael Addison kill my partner, and now we were supposed to spend our money to feed this guy so he could read books, watch cable TV, and work out? We were supposed to take the risk that some judge 20 years down the road might commute his sentence? Let’s put him to death and get it over with! I testified to the committee to keep the death penalty.

Maybe I felt better having vented my anger in public. The death penalty was kept in place. Addison’s life would become that of a prisoner whose life is punctuated by unending and prolonged appeals in a circuitous legal system. My own life, meanwhile, would continue on its inevitable descent. I was living on a friend’s pullout couch and my family was crumbling. That was the bottom. From there it would be a slow, agonizing climb upward – a climb that, owing to the courage and love of my saintly wife, I did not have to make alone. When she and I sat before a marriage counselor for the first time and described our problems, he looked at us, shook his head, and spoke an expletive. We had serious work to do. I had serious work to do. The climb began.

New job, new life

It would lead to a familiar place. I retired from the Manchester police department in 2010 and took a job as a security guard on the very campus where I had begun to shed my faith two decades earlier. Returning to Saint Anselm gave me the feeling of coming home, and after just a few weeks changes began to happen. I started to be able to deal with people without assuming the worst about them. I reacquainted myself with some of the monks I had known in my student days. I began to feel comfortable in groups again. As the new guy, I was assigned to the night shift, which meant long hours when there was little activity, so I began reading quite a bit. I might even have prayed some, and I began to be drawn back to the Church. My Mass attendance shifted from sporadic to regular, and when I went I was actually an active participant instead of a passive guest.

I was still angry. I still wanted Michael Briggs’s killer put to death. Then came a new bishop and an old movie. I was reading an interview with Bishop Peter Libasci in Parable, the magazine of the Manchester Diocese, shortly after he arrived in New Hampshire. He mentioned that his favorite movie was Song of Bernadette. I had never seen it and I’m a sucker for old movies, so during the quiet of the night shift I found the movie on YouTube and watched it. I loved it. Then I moved on to 1950s Bible epics like the 1951 classic Quo Vadis. In one scene Nero, the notorious persecutor of Christians, appears before the crowd. A woman in the crowd shouts at him, calling him “a beast!” Saint Peter hears her and tells her: “No man is a beast. Look at him and know that he is but sick, sick in heart and spirit, in his soul.”

A sacred gift from God

I enjoyed the movie, but those words of Saint Peter wouldn’t leave my head. During the quiet of my rounds at night I began stopping into the Abbey church. As I began to pray more and more and to use my long neglected rosary, those words from the film worked their way down into my heart. Around this time Sister Helen Prejean came to campus as a speaker. Sister Helen is a well-known advocate against the death penalty. Her work was dramatized in the film Dead Man Walking. I entered the presentation still rationalizing my stance that a Catholic could support the death penalty. I listened attentively to Sister Helen and even spoke to her afterward, explaining my predicament. She listened and didn’t try to push her view on me. I came away still conflicted, but what had hit home were the spiritual arguments, particularly that life is a sacred gift from God that should not be willfully destroyed.

As my spiritual climb continued, so did my understanding. I began attending a Bible study group at my parish, Saint Catherine’s. There my previously naive and unquestioned faith ran up against Saint Paul. Here was a guy who had been an enthusiastic and violent attacker of the Church, purposely dismantling it as much as he could. Then he realized his errors, gave himself to God’s will, and was redeemed by God’s grace. He went from being an attacker of the Church to one of its foremost evangelists. Who couldn’t admire a man like that?

As I struggled with my view on the death penalty, there stood Paul, imploring: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12: 17-19) And long before Saint Paul the prophet Ezekiel had written: “ ‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’ ” (Ezekiel 18:23)

I took my struggle to religious teachers, to priests. The common thread was clear: “The fundamental dignity of human life.” In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), John Paul II wrote that “man is called to the fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” The entire encyclical reaffirms the divine gift that we all have received, namely, life itself. The pope also reaffirmed the teaching of the Catechism that the death penalty could be justified only if it was absolutely necessary to defend society.

Praying for Addison

Given the Catholic view on the sanctity of life and our modern prison system and the means we have to protect society, it became clear to me that as a Catholic I could not justify the very pre-meditated act of executing someone who – for all the evil of his crime and all the permanent hurt he caused others – still lives, like Saint Paul did, in the possibility of spiritual redemption. That’s where my journey brought me. Do I want to visit Michael Addison or invite him into my home? I do not. Do I occasionally pray for him and his family? I do.

This past Oct. 16, in the chilly early morning hours, I made my way once more to the alley in Manchester where Michael Briggs was shot. It is an annual pilgrimage that many of us have shared since that horrific night. Michael’s family, fellow officers, and friends gather in vigil in the dark. Honor, love, and sorrow hang heavy in the air and in our hearts. This year nobody said a word. After a while we quietly went our separate ways. The place to which I return from that annual vigil is different for me today than in years past because, well . . .

I’m a Catholic. And today those three words mean more to me than I ever thought they would, including the loss of several friends who cannot understand how a guy who has seen what I have seen could go from speaking publicly in favor of the death penalty to testifying against it. It has not been an easy journey and ultimately I didn’t make the change. I just descended until I hit a humble enough spot in life where all I could do is ask God for forgiveness. He gave it unconditionally. As the receiver of that gift, who am I rob it from someone else? Even my worst enemy.


To Kill or Not to Kill
By K. CHARLES LANG AND SUSAN FERRE
January 8, 2014

The New Hampshire House of Representatives will be debating House Bill 1170, the bill to repeal the death penalty, on January 16th.  This sentence has not been invoked since the late 1930's.  Currently there is no death chamber at either of the state's correctional facilities in Concord or in Berlin.  One inmate resides on death row, several years into the appeals process.

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As former Texas residents, our thirty years experience in Texas has taught us that the law is not equally applied to all citizens. (African-Americasn and Hispanic-Americans appear to receive increased application of its punishment phase).  The appeals process is costly, lengthy, and beneficial to those with financial resources (a thriving industry for lawyers).    Plea bargains using fear tactics are often offered to those who cannot pay for a strong defense.  Currently because of DNA evidence not available at the time of conviction, and through the tireless efforts, often pro bono, from the legal profession, several inmates have been freed after years on death row.  It is quite possible, however, that convictions based on flawed evidence result in executions, because “someone has to pay the price.”

There are many arguments against keeping the death penalty on the books:  legal, moral, ethical, religious, and financial.  One of the most compelling arguments in support of HB 1170 and the possibility of repeal is that NH, a small state, would join the NE block of states offering life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, thus sending a message to the U. S. Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the death penalty.  Our small state could in theory neutralize Texas’ draconian approach to punishment.  The state of NH already, we understand, has spent several million dollars on the appeals process and could be spending several million more on the construction of a death chamber….Concord or Berlin.  Can we afford this?

The option of the state of NH “to kill or not to kill” should be to its citizens a huge ethical, moral, religious and financial concern.  We would ask that those who are so motivated would contact our representatives regarding this issue:

Gary M. Coulombe, Robert L. Theberge, Yvonne D. Thomas, and Senator, Jeff Woodburn.  For more information and to view an informative website visit www.nodeathpenaltynh.org.

“Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”


Ban capital punishment on practical grounds
By CHRIS DORNIN | Seacoast Online
December 31, 2013

I urge New Hampshire lawmakers to repeal the death penalty this year. My arguments are practical, and not religious. I respect those who would say Adolf Eichmann deserved death for helping carry out the worst genocide in history.

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But capital punishment is a failed American and New Hampshire policy. New evidence has saved more than 130 innocent people from execution since 1973. They were convicted by mistaken eyewitnesses, by forced confessions, by shoddy forensics and by bad defense lawyers.

The death penalty will always be racist, costly, inconsistent and flawed. Whites avoid execution for killing blacks. Blacks charged with killing whites face a presumption of guilt at trial. Rich defendants fare much better than poor ones.

While convicted murderer Michael Addison awaits death, the cost to defend and prosecute him has passed $5 million, with many years of additional state and federal appeals still coming. That money could better pay for programs to help parolees succeed. As a prison volunteer and criminal justice reformer, I’ve seen bad people change for the very much better, even murderers, even men like Addison.

Chris Dornin
Founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform
Concord


Consider Mandela's example
By SHEILA ZAKRE | Concord Monitor
December 8, 2013

Nelson Mandela’s life was an inspiration and a beacon to anyone who loves justice and wishes to make the world a better place.

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After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela’s efforts to transform South Africa from a racist oligarchy to a nondiscriminatory democracy required the drafting and adoption of a new constitution that would guarantee equal treatment of black and whites. The new constitution was adopted in 1994, the same year Mandela was elected president. Two years later, interpreting the 1994 constitution, South Africa’s Constitutional Court unanimously struck down the death penalty.

Under apartheid, South Africa had one of the highest rates of judicial execution in the world. In the new South Africa under Mandela, the death penalty was unconstitutional. I hope our legislators will consider Mandela to be their guiding light. Next session, they will vote on a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty. A black man sits on death row, sentenced in the same year that a wealthy white man, convicted of murder for hire, got life in prison. New Hampshire, of course, is not South Africa, but all our praise for Mandela means little unless we consider his example when we decide what values we want our own laws to implement.


Repeal of the death penalty
By AMY M. HOEY, RSM

I urge the NH Legislature to support the bipartisan bill to repeal the death penalty. As a Catholic I am guided by the statement of our U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  that "ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life."

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As a Sister of Mercy, I am committed to non-violence  and believe that taking the life of another, even in the name of the state, escalates the cycle of violence. As a citizen, I am convinced by the research that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. As I learn more about those who are wrongfully convicted of crime, I hate to think that an innocent person could be executed by the state. As of November, 2009, there had been 139 persons on death row who were exonerated because of evidence of their innocence.

Listening to families of murder victims has lead me to realize that execution does not bring peace to them. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “Modern society has the means of protecting itself without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”

I hope that during this legislative session, NH will join the other states in our country who have repealed the death penalty.


The Most Rev. Peter Anthony Libasci, Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld: Death penalty violates the sanctity of life and must be abolished
By THE MOST REV. PETER A. LIBASCI  and REV. A. ROBERT HIRSCHFELD | Union Leader
November 27, 2013

As leaders of Christian churches in New Hampshire, we are compelled by our ordinations and by our faith to interpret the Gospel and to stir up the conscience of our people. The recently submitted bill to repeal the death penalty represents an important moment for us to come together in our witness to work for a more holy and just society.

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Debate surrounding the death penalty is so serious and so emotionally charged because everyone concerned upholds the sacredness of human life. We are justifiably horrified and outraged when we hear of any assault, and we are especially enraged when we hear of such crimes that are aggravated and result in physical or emotional impairment or death. We are right to be angry. We are right to demand a reckoning and a response for the sake of the victims, their families, and for the whole of society. Our recourse is found in our penal system that relies on the certainty of incarceration — indeed, in some cases, incarceration for life without possibility of parole, for sake of justice and for the public’s safety.

Our faith teaches that we are not justified to take another life out of a desire for retribution. As we are committed to learning the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, we believe that killing for the sake of retribution is equal to what Jesus called the unforgivable sin, that of “grieving the Holy Spirit.” The death penalty precludes any possibility for the offender to repent, to amend his or her life, to seek forgiveness from God and from those most affected by the crime. Faith tells us that we are to hold up the possibility of this Spirit-led change of heart even, perhaps especially, in the face of all evidence to the contrary — that remorse is impossible and not forthcoming from the convicted.

In a society that is increasingly marked by anger, hatred, revenge and violence, to hold out the possibility for repentance and forgiveness is hard and even offensive. Yet, for the Christian, it is the way of the cross. Though the initial human instinct may be to seek retribution, people of faith are called to the more faithful path of mercy. For this we look to Jesus who freed a woman from being stoned to death by demanding those who condemned her to examine their own complicity in sin. We see how Jesus also chose to take the place of a condemned murderer to display how the power of God’s love renders punishment by death a futile way to order a just society.

Practically speaking, the death penalty neither deters others, nor brings the perpetrator to understanding. Instead, in the worst of ironies, capital punishment publicly validates the act of taking a human life. The death penalty does not lead a criminal to understand the magnitude of what he or she has done. Instead, because capital punishment is state-sponsored homicide, it reinforces the obscene notion that there is no offense in the taking of human life. It only perpetuates the cycle of sin and violence from which our churches pray and work to be free.

We urge all people of good will to join us in prayer so that we may witness to the truth as Christ taught us — all life is sacred, and forgiveness is the mark of a Christian. We offer special compassion for those most directly affected by violence who grieve the loss of family members and loved ones. We urge our Legislature and governor to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire, and with the savings the state would realize through the repeal of the death penalty, we encourage lawmakers to devote more resources to helping the families and loved ones of murder victims.

The Most Rev. Peter Anthony Libasci is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. This column is also signed by Rev. David Abbott, district superintendent of the New Hampshire District of the New England Conference, the United Methodist Church, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, bishop of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop James Hazelwood, bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Rev. Gary M. Schulte, conference minister of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ.


New Hampshire needs to end the death penalty
By Rev. DANIEL FERRY

Recently at the Legislative Office Building a new bill to repeal the death penalty was introduced.  Over the years from 1834 when Governor Badger asked the legislature to abolish the death penalty to today the issue has been debated. I support this repeal bill for a number of reasons.

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It is argued that the death penalty deters violent crime, and there is no data or experience to support this.  The cost of millions of dollars for years of trials far exceeds the cost of prison for life without parole for a murderer. At the same time, few state dollars are allocated to help the family members who have lost a loved one to homicide.

And as we know, because of DNA testing today and other major problems in prosecuting cases, 140 innocent men and women on death row have been freed since 1973.  A growing understanding of many questions around the execution of the death penalty tell us in our hearts and minds to stop.  New Hampshire needs to join the other New England states and repeal the death penalty.


Letter: A thoughtful argument
By SHEILA ZAKRE | Concord Monitor
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Re “Justice served? I’m rethinking my support for the death penalty,” Sunday Monitor Forum, Nov. 17): Thank you, Tony Soltani, for your thoughtful column on the death penalty in New Hampshire. There are many compelling reasons for anyone to reconsider his former support of capital punishment. Hopefully, our state Legislature will find in your column its own reasons to abolish the death penalty this year.


Not proud of the death penalty
By DENNIS MATHEWS | Foster's Daily Democrat
Monday, November 18, 2013

I am not proud to live in a state and country that condone the death penalty. The United States along with most of the world’s advanced nations has long ago abandoned the use of corporal punishment in our criminal justice system.

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There are a few places where corporal punishment is still carried out. In Saudi Arabia and several other countries that apply a strict interpretation of Shariah law crimes can be punished by flogging, amputation, mutilation and eye gouging. This year a Saudi court sentenced a 24-year-old man to be surgically paralyzed from the waist down as punishment for the paralysis he had inflicted on someone else during a knife fight as a 14-year-old.

While such punishments can fulfill a primal sense of justice they are widely regarded as barbaric to modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, state sanctioned execution, ultimately the harshest punishment of all, is the one vestige of this ‘eye for an eye’ judicial mentality that persists in the United States. All European countries, Australia and every country in the western hemisphere except for the US have abolished capital punishment. By maintaining this policy the U.S. joins an ignominious group. The only countries to execute more people than the US in 2010 were China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen.

A recent Foster’s editorial reiterated support for the death penalty in reference to the Michael Addison case. The editorial declares the New Hampshire death penalty statute valid for several reasons.

First, in the Addison case there is no doubt of guilt. Second, it is used sparingly. Third, it has been used successfully to plea bargain. And fourth, that considerable time and opportunity are made available to appeal.

To these points, while Michael Addison’s guilt in this case may be unassailable there no doubt have been and will continue to be faulty convictions. Is it so important to maintain this penalty that we are willing to risk ending the life of an innocent person? The fact that it is used sparingly does not in itself justify the act and calls into question why it is necessary at all. The abandonment of the death penalty by certain states within the U.S. and other nations globally has not caused an increase in homicides or other violent crimes in those places.

By intentionally crafting laws that restrict the crimes for which the death penalty can be pursued we make the dubious attempt to place relative values on people’s lives. Should a law enforcement officer’s life be considered more valuable than a store clerk?

To say that the death penalty is useful as a plea bargaining tool is to recognize the obvious value of wielding the ultimate cudgel but does not provide moral legitimacy. How different is this from the extraction of ‘blood money’ from convicted perpetrators who wish to avoid the harsh punishments handed out under Shariah law?

While it is true that our legal system does provide opportunities for appeal it still puts the state in the position of ending someone’s life when that appeal process is unsuccessful. What is more, given the opportunities that are provided to appeal death sentences the cumulative expense to the state when a death sentence is achieved are usually many times the expense of a sentence of life in prison without parole. The estimate I have heard given for the Addison case is $5 million and counting.

What does it say about our values that we are willing to spend that amount of money in order to end one criminal’s life while there are no doubt unsolved murders and other crimes that are not being pursued because of a lack of resources? I suspect that one of the reasons we still have capital punishment in this country is because of the way it can be successfully exploited for political purposes. We recoil at the heinous actions of violent criminals and can be tempted to find reassurance in the pursuit of the harshest sentences. While putting a criminal perpetrator to death can satisfy some sense of justice on an instinctive level, I believe deeper reflection will acknowledge the inadequacy of this at achieving any real sense of resolution. Putting a murderer to death will not restore the victim to life. And yet a sentence of life in prison can just as effectively protect society from the likes of Michael Addison.

I agree with those who say we can live without the death penalty and I will be urging my representatives in Concord to vote to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.


My Turn: Why I’m rethinking support for the death penalty
By TONY SOLTANI | Concord Monitor
Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Hampshire has a limited death penalty law – a strict one, with many safeguards. It applies to first-degree premeditated murders with aggravating circumstances. As a former state representative, I voted for that law more than once, although never enthusiastically. Now I’m rethinking those votes.

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We have relatively few such first-degree murders in the state. We have not used the death penalty since 1939 and have used it sparingly since the 18th century. A jury must convict and then find sufficient aggravating circumstances to justify an execution. A judge must confirm the sentence, and a mandatory appeal will follow, with several discretionary and collateral challenges. Unlike in states such as Texas, the governor has authority to commute to life imprisonment or stay an execution. The many safeguards, the narrow scope of the law and the low frequency of crimes sanctionable by death gave me some assurance. I wanted the best of both worlds: the established deterrent value of the law on the books (which applies not to crimes of passion but to those with premeditation) along with the hopes of never applying it.

I am dedicated to the cause of life. Seldom would a crime fit the law, hardly ever would a prosecutor seek it, even more seldom would a jury administer it and no governor would ever allow an execution. After all, no governor with political ambitions from either political party would want to be the first to sign a death warrant since 1939.

That was my thought process. My good friends, Democratic Rep. Jack Pratt of Walpole to my left and Republican Rep. Loren Jean of Litchfield to my right insisted that I was wrong. Years later, a few things have changed which have me questioning my votes.

First, we now have a man on death row in New Hampshire. His actions hardly evoke sympathy; nevertheless, he is human, and taking a human life in a sterile, clinical and controlled setting degrades the human family. For those of us with religious beliefs, it has the undertone of challenging our creator’s supremacy, taking what is only God’s to give and take.

Second, Project Innocence happened. Hundreds of innocent persons, some men, some women, have been proven not guilty after having been condemned to death.

Finally, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on forensic sciences in 2009, commissioned by Congress. The findings were disturbing, to say the least.

The great reliance on “forensic sciences” has been misplaced all along. Hair and fiber, ballistics, fingerprints, bite mark analysis, blood splatter, even radar use, are troublingly closer to arts than sciences.

All that I spent days and hours learning is nothing more than junk science. I have no artistic aptitude. The only shining light in forensics is the fairly new technology of DNA, with the proviso that samples are collected properly, stored and transported properly, analyzed properly, and the statistical component is calculated properly. That composite science of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics has set nearly every innocent free on the initiative of the Innocence Project.

I know I could never serve as executioner. My conscience is deeply troubled for allowing anyone to serve in that capacity in this sacred land in my name. The foreboding words of Pratt and Jean haunt me.

(Tony Soltani is a former Republican state representative from Epsom.)


Misleading
By DONNA CORIATY | Foster's Daily Democrat
Friday, November 15, 2013

To the editor: In my opinion, your Sunday editorial (11/10) headline “A weak case to end the death penalty” was misleading as was the entire editorial.

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I have been a life-long opponent of the death penalty. This opposition has nothing to do with any one person or their crime. My dispute is a combination of moral and logic. As a Christian I believe in the belief that all life is sacred and all life includes conception through natural death. Execution by the state is not natural. Logically, I don’t get “We should kill people who kill people to show that it is wrong to kill people.” Isn’t that a Duh?

While I applaud you for your honesty in noting that your paper “has supported the death penalty” I suspect your using the highly emotional Addison case to address the work being done by citizens to abolish the death penalty.

My husband and I were fortunate to attend the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty News Conference at the State House (10/24). At this news conference Church leaders, judges, police chiefs & victims spoke out against the death penalty. Many news outlets were present, however, we could not find anyone from Foster’s. Were you there? You may have been educated.

Ending, are you still in fear since Mr. Addison is alive? Will you feel safer if he is executed? I think not.


My Turn: Violence in any form is never the answer
By Rev. JONATHAN HOPKINS | Concord Monitor
Sunday, November 10, 2013

I have always been against the death penalty. Ever since I was a kid, it just didn’t make any sense to me. We are going to kill someone so we can show that killing people is wrong? As I grew up and studied the issue more, I realized that there was no statistical evidence to say that the death penalty actually prevents crimes. I also began to learn that some people have received the death penalty only to be found innocent by DNA evidence. It would be a travesty if we killed an innocent person.

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It also costs more to kill someone than to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. For all these reasons and some others I believe that the death penalty simply does not make sense.

Though I am a pastor, I never had a particular religious view about this issue. But that has changed recently. I have come to see not the religious implications but the spiritual issues involved when we decide to take a human life. God does not desire a continuation of violence through retribution. In my own faith tradition I have come to see how God sets out to do away with retaliatory violence. Consider that after Cain killed Abel, God forbid anyone to touch Cain. The Bible actually reduces the use of death as a way to settle scores. Not to mention that it was the state-sanctioned death penalty that killed Jesus.

On Nov. 24, Christ the King Sunday, there will be a preach-in supported by Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci of the Roman Catholic diocese, Episcopal Bishop Rob Hirschfeld, Bishop James Hazelwood (my bishop) of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Rev. Gary Schulte, conference ministry of the United Church of Christ.

On that day we will talk about the spiritual issues involved when addressing the death penalty – how the use of retaliatory violence only continues the cycle. The need for redemption, forgiveness, healing, compassion and reconciliation are all spiritual truths that should help us to come to conclusions about the death penalty. In 2014 we have a chance in New Hampshire to be the 19th state to abolish the death penalty. We have a chance to do away with an expensive, noneffective, nonspiritual way of fighting crime. We have a chance to send a real message that violence in any form is never the answer to the problems we face.

(Rev. Jonathan Hopkins of Concord is pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church and president of the New Hampshire Council of Churches.)


State-sponsored killing is wrong
By ANN WRIGHT | Foster's Daily Democrat
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Fosters’ Nov. 10 editorial regarding repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, the editorial board gives a cynical and confusing reason to keep this barbaric punishment in place.

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The board claims that because Michael Addison is “unquestionably guilty” of murder, we don’t have to worry about innocent people being executed by our state. The fact is there have been people in our state wrongfully convicted of murder, rape and other crimes. The Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University conducted a study of crimes throughout the country from 1989 through 2012. They found that there were 873 cases of exoneration. 101 of those people were sentenced to death.

Of course we will get it right most of the time. But sometimes we won’t. We’re only human. This decision shouldn’t be based on only one convicted individual, but those that have yet to be tried and convicted if we keep this punishment in place. If executing innocent people is worth the price of having a death penalty, that is a moral decision the people of New Hampshire will have to decide.

Speaking of price, Maryland conducted a study that found it cost them $186 million dollars to execute five individuals. It cost about a million dollars for the initial capital murder trial of Michael Addison. He offered to spend the rest of his life in prison without parole, but the prosecution said this would be an insult to Officer Briggs. How much more will we pay for his appeals and execution? We don’t even have an execution chamber and most states are finding it difficult to find the necessary drugs to perform a lethal injection. Wouldn’t this money be better spent on victims’ services, increased police support and rehabilitative programs in our prisons?

The New York Times wrote an excellent piece almost exactly one year ago where they say, “In 2010, a state commission on the death penalty voted 12-10 against recommending abolition. But as the Concord Monitor reported about the majority, one was the father of a murdered police officer, one was the relative of a murder victim, five were former or current police officers and five were former or current prosecutors. The vote of the commission was as arbitrary as that of the jury because it depended on the makeup of the group.

The commission’s majority presented the state’s rare use of the death penalty as proof of the punishment’s soundness. But that contradicts the United States Supreme Court, which found that a random death sentence — once every three-quarters of a century — is ‘cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.’ Its infrequency makes it arbitrary.”

State-sponsored killing is wrong, and like most acts of barbarism, it will soon go the way of witch burning. Almost every country in the world has come to this conclusion. Those that have not abolished capital punishment or have a moratorium on it are repressive regimes such as Iran, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and China. I believe strongly in justice. If a person commits a crime, they should be punished. However, the punishment our state metes out is one that we all need to take responsibility for — morally and financially.

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On the Road to Repeal NH Death Penalty
by Arnie Alpert, InZaneTimes
October 26, 2013

Hanging is still a permitted method of execution in the State of New Hampshire, too.  Sound barbaric?  Think all forms of state-sponsored execution are barbaric?

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Today the government of Iran executed 16 so-called “rebels” by hanging, reportedly in retaliation for the killing of 14 guards at the Pakistani border.  Barbaric, isn’t it?

Hanging is still a permitted method of execution in the State of New Hampshire, too.  Sound barbaric?  Think all forms of state-sponsored execution are barbaric?

If you said “yes,” then it’s time to join a growing campaign to wipe the death penalty off New Hampshire’s law books for good.  The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty publicly launched its “Road to Repeal” this month with a statewide speaking tour by Kirk Bloodsworth and a State House news conference.  The news conference drew religious leaders, former police officers, lawmakers from both major parties, and the judge who presided over the state’s homicide trials during his tenure as Chief Justice of the state’s Superior Court system.

Bloodsworth, the first person freed from death row based on DNA evidence that another man was responsible for the crime which nearly sent the ex-Marine to the gas chamber, delivered lectures at UNH Durham, Keene State College, ad Winnacunnet High School in Hampton.  He also met with hampton 10-11-13 003 reporters and lawmakers, many of whom said they were moved by his story of surviving death row.

Bloodsworth was arrested in 1984 and charged with the brutal rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl.  He always maintained his innocence, but it was not until he read a book about the use of DNA to capture killers in England that he found a way to free himself after more than 8 years behind bars.  “What happened to me could happen to anybody,” he told everyone he spoke to.  Bloodsworth noted that of the 144 people exonerated from death row in recent , only 18 have used DNA evidence.  “How many more innocent people do we have in prison?” he asked.

Regardless of guilt, though, Bloodsworth said “you can’t kill a person to say killing is wrong.”  That’s a sentiment that has the approval of Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and Bishop Peter Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, both of whom spoke to reporters, lawmakers, and repeal advocates in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building on October 24.

“The death penalty neither deters others nor brings the perpetrator to

road-to-repeal understanding but validates the taking of a human life,” the Catholic leader said.  Bishop Hirschfeld called on everyone to “refuse to be contaminated by the sin of violence” and to resist the temptation to demand retribution for horrible crimes.

Ray Dodge, who served as Chief of Police for the Town of Marlborough, said “mistakes are inevitable” in our criminal justice system, no matter how skilled, experienced, and well-intentioned are the officers and prosecutors charged with bringing perpetrators to justice.

Following the former chief, former Chief Justice Walter Murphy delivered a lengthy speech, drawing on his years in court and his more recent experience as Chair of a legislatively created commission to study the state’s death penalty.  “There is not one whit of evidence that the death penalty deters crime,” he said, and certainly no more deterrent effect than the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which is the statutorily mandated sentence for first degree murder.

Murphy noted that the case of Michael Addison, convicted in 2008 for the 2006 slaying of Michael Briggs, has already cost the state more than $5 million “and I’m told it will be double that by the time they finish the appeals.”  Those funds press conf 1-24-13 could easily be put to better use, he said.

Rep. Renny Cushing, the repeal bill’s prime sponsor, said this is a “moment in history,” pointing out the fact that the 2012 gubernatorial election featured two major party candidates who opposed the death penalty.  Governor Maggie Hassan, who prevailed at the ballot box in 2012, has indicated she opposes the death penalty on moral grounds and would sign a repeal bill as long as it does not undo the Addison sentence.

The repeal bill is the first on the list of nearly 700 bills already filed for the 2014 legislative session.  Joining Cushing as legislative co-sponsors are an impressively diverse array of lawmakers, including liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, pro-choice and right-to-lifers, leading “free staters,” and three Representatives who lost their fathers to homicide.  Passage will require their hard labor, but also the work of citizens who agree it’s time for the death penalty to be repealed.  The best way to get on the road to repeal is to join the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Link to original article


Letter: Injustice of death penalty in N.H. is black and white
By D. ARNIE ARNESEN | SeacoastOnline.com
October 25, 2013

On Thursday, Oct. 24, two bishops, a judge, a state representative, a police chief and a murder victim family member will announce a new effort to repeal the state's capital punishment law.

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The renewed effort brought me back to May 19, 2000, the day New Hampshire’s first woman governor, Jeanne Shaheen, used a mere 40 words to veto the repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty. (The Republican House, under the leadership of then-Speaker Donna Sytek, was told to vote their conscience and they did, passing the repeal by 191-163. A few weeks later, the N.H. Senate followed suit, by passing the repeal 14-10.) If Then-Gov. Shaheen had allowed the repeal to become law, New Hampshire would have led the nation, by becoming the first state to reject the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

Fast forward: Today, there is only one person on New Hampshire’s death row, a young black man who unintentionally killed a cop (that finding was determined by the jury). In 2008, the same year the young black criminal was sentenced to “death,” a millionaire white criminal, who intentionally hired thugs to kill a handyman, was sentenced to life without parole.

Sen. Shaheen is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate, a position of leadership, influence and prestige. Politicians have been known to evolve on issues; perhaps it is time to inquire whether Shaheen’s bias in favor of the death penalty has changed now that we have evidence of New Hampshire’s interpretation of the law? Is it time to abolish when black equals death and white equals life without parole?


A personal decision: going on the record against capital punishment
by Ellen Kollob | Leaven for the Loaf
Monday, October 21, 2013

It’s time for some self-disclosure, as we used to say in psych class a generation ago. Deep breath now: I am opposed to the death penalty.

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There. I said it. I speak for myself and not for friends, family, clients, or employers. Some of you are thinking “so what? You’re pro-life. Of course you’re against the death penalty.” Others are thinking “that’s not our issue.” Others – probably the majority of the fine people with whom I’ve labored in the vineyard for years – will shake their heads and tell me that I just don’t understand the difference between innocent human life and those murderous thugs on death row. This isn’t an academic matter in my state, as we have a man on death row, and a bill to repeal the death penalty will be considered in Concord next January.

This isn’t a road-to-Damascus moment. It’s taken me a long time to get here, just as it took time for me to reject the laws that let us treat our preborn children as property. Unlike abortion or euthanasia, capital punishment isn’t cut-and-dried. Even in the official teachings of my religious faith, there’s a teensy bit of wiggle room on the death penalty that is utterly absent in discussions of abortion and euthanasia. (“[C]ases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not nonexistent.”)

It’s not the possibility of erroneous convictions that I find most persuasive. It’s the uneven results of sentencing hearings in capital trials, despite the careful consideration that characterizes every case.

Two trials, two outcomes

In my state, the death penalty is very rare; the state’s last execution was in 1939. A few years ago, two capital cases came up at roughly the same time. One was a murder-for-hire case. The other, prosecuted personally by then-Attorney General and now-U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, was the trial of a man who murdered a Manchester police officer.

Both defendants were found guilty, and I have no doubt that they were rightfully convicted. Then came the penalty phases. The man who arranged the contract killing got life in prison. The cop-shooter got the death penalty for murdering the police officer. (His case is under appeal.) The killers are of different races and sharply different socioeconomic backgrounds.

When the trials were over, the differing sentences jarred me. The disparity made no sense to me. I don’t see how Jack Reid’s family is any more or less bereft than Officer Brigg’s widow and children. The murder of a police officer is a horrible outrage against public order – as is hiring people to lure an innocent man to a place where men wait to beat him to death.

Vengeance is tempting, at least to me

Later, the horrific murder of Kimberly Cates and the accompanying attack on her daughter in 2009 led to convictions for five young men involved in her death (two killers, two willing bystanders, one accomplice after the fact). A more heinous crime is hard to imagine. The two killers were not eligible for the death penalty, because “home invasion” was not included in New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. (The age of the killers might have made that penalty difficult to impose in any case.) They got life in prison without parole.

The next legislative session brought a bill to add home invasion to the death penalty statute. Kimberly Cates’s husband supported it, which guaranteed its ultimate passage. I went to the House hearing and was one of the many people who had to listen from the hallway since the room was packed.

The desire in that room for vengeance was nearly palpable. Anger and grief and frustration overwhelmed all other considerations. My blood ran cold. I had never before been part of such a crowd. The thing is, if any one of Kimberly Cates’s killers had been in that room, I would have taken pleasure in seeing him get the same treatment he had meted out to her. That wouldn’t have made me right. It was sobering to realize the violence I’d have been capable of had the law been on my side.

I have no problem with self-defense. I just don’t accept that executing someone is self-defense, particularly when incarceration for life is an option.

Hearing from a family member of a murder victim

A few days ago, while contemplating this post, I listened to a presentation by Kristin Froehlich in Manchester. Kristin’s brother and four of his friends were murdered in Connecticut in a 1995 rent dispute (how much more pointless can a crime get?). The killer was up for the death penalty until the state changed its law; he is now serving life without parole. Still, the families of the dead men had to consider at first that the prosecution would lead to a death sentence.

“It’s been a wild journey. Never in my wildest dreams” did Kristin expect to be a public speaker, least of all on the abolition of the death penalty. But here she is. She professes an aversion to both violence and public speaking, but she immerses herself in both, “because I believe so strongly that the death penalty does not have a place in our society. I just don’t think we need to kill people to be safe.” She didn’t believe that at first. Her experience as a survivor changed her mind.

I won’t go over all she said. One of her arguments in particular resonated with me: the option of the death penalty vs. life imprisonment without parole “creates a hierarchy of victims.” True. Michael Briggs, Jack Reid, Kimberly Cates: are two of them less important because only the Briggs trial put a man on death row? Of course not. Their deaths were horrible crimes, where talk of “mitigating factors” is insulting to the families of the victims. Kristin’s quick to say she understands that some families of murder victims actually want to see the death penalty imposed; “they have every right to feel how they do.”

She recoils from the word “closure.” ” I hate that word. There is no closure from my brother’s murder.” So what has she done since the killer was convicted, and how has she moved to her current efforts to abolish the death penalty? She cites family, even though she has family members who disagree with her; peer support from other families of murder victims; counseling, and “telling my story.”

How does this add up?

“I think the death penalty is central to pro-life belief, because it’s the hardest,” says Kristin Froehlich. She’s right about it being the hardest. People of good will, some of them dear friends of mine, see a sharp distinction between the innocence of preborn children and the guilt of condemned criminals who chose to do evil. They strongly believe that a life for a life reflects justice, and that failure to support execution is an insult to the victims’ families.

At the hearings on New Hampshire’s repeal bill next year, I’ll see the same faces that I saw at the hearing for the bill that expanded the death penalty not long ago. I’ll hear the same arguments. I will be agreeing there with some people who are as adamantly and outspokenly in support of abortion as they are in opposition to the death penalty. They probably won’t know what to do with me.

I will not press the groups of which I’ve been a part to take up this particular fight. Moving past Roe v. Wade is a full-time job. It’s tough to establish a culture of life when the President says “God bless Planned Parenthood!” to the nation’s largest abortion provider, when medical standards for abortionists are not driven by concern for women’s health, and when even the “official” but undercounted tally by the government adds up to hundreds of thousands of abortions annually in the U.S. I don’t consider anyone a squish who fights peacefully for the moms and babies. I believe that in any case promoting a culture of life will inevitably lead to eventual reconsideration of capital punishment.

On the other hand, I have yet to figure out how opposition to the death penalty squares with support for abortion. Go to any hearing involving capital punishment, and look at who’s testifying for repeal.  Sure, there are some ministers and family members of murder victims who have a consistent ethic against abortion and the death penalty. They are outnumbered by people familiar to me: there’s the woman who argued against collecting statistics on abortion. There’s a legislator who holds that a preborn child is nonhuman. There’s the lobbyist for an organization that opposes informed consent for abortion, saying “trust women” without mentioning just what it is I’m supposed to trust them to do. When it’s mom vs. baby, they’re with mom. But are they saying “trust society” when it’s society vs. convicted killers? No.

Ah, well. If all I did was agree with my friends all the time, life would be way too comfortable. And this makes me very uncomfortable. I am under no illusion about the depths of depravity to which some people will descend – just look at the murder cases I’ve cited from here in New Hampshire. No getting around it, though: I can no longer abide capital punishment. Life-for-a-life is no way to run a civilization.

“I had to ask myself what kind of world I wanted to live in. The death penalty is not part of that,” says Kristin Froehlich. “The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life,” say the American Catholic bishops. “Do what Jesus would do,” said Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, asked to intervene on behalf of a condemned inmate.

I agree.

Link to original article

 


My Turn: Victim of a crime? Leave a message
By BARBARA KESHEN | Concord Monitor
Thursday, April 26, 2012

This week is National Crime Victim Rights Week. It is appropriate to ask how we in New Hampshire are doing when it comes to trying to make amends to victims of crime. I am ashamed to say that we could and should be doing a lot more for victims of crime here in New Hampshire.

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Although we have recently raised the cap on the amount of compensation that a victim of a crime can receive, the amount that we provide to victims is not so much modest as it is niggardly. The maximum recovery for the family of a murder victim is $25,000. That sum is obscenely dwarfed by the amount of money that we pay to prosecute and incarcerate offenders.

Compare New Hampshire to Taiwan. Lin Hsinyi, executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, was quoted in the newsletter of Murder Victim Families for Human Rights saying that in Taiwan the family of a murder victim can receive up to $62,500 and that they are trying to increase that amount. That puts us to shame.

For the first time in decades, New Hampshire has a resident on death row. The time, energy and taxpayer dollars that went into obtaining this one conviction is staggering. Ironically, during the same period that our state was spending millions of dollars to obtain this one death penalty conviction, victims of crime who called the victims’ assistance commission got this message:

‘You have reached the victims’ assistance commission at the attorney general’s office. If you would like an application or brochure mailed to you, please leave your name, address and telephone number. For all other calls please leave a message with your name, telephone number and the reason for your call. As this unit is currently short-staffed, this line is not being answered but it is checked often for messages. You will need to leave a message. Someone will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you for calling.’

The message on the answering machine has been changed, but the unit is still short-staffed. Victims of crime are still getting the short stick. At the very least, when a crime victim calls the victims assistance commission, he or she should be able to talk to trained and compassionate individual.

A couple of years ago New Hampshire unveiled a new cold case unit. The unit was funded with a $1.2 million federal grant. There are 117 unsolved murders in New Hampshire. Murder victim family members have testified that the pain of not knowing what happened to their loved ones is unbearable. The federal grant has ended and the Legislature did not fund the cold case unit, although the unit continues to limp along with depleted resources. What does it say about us if we spend millions of dollars to obtain a single death penalty conviction when we could devote those resources to bringing some semblance of relief and justice to victim family members?

So how is New Hampshire doing when it comes to compensating victims? Not so good.

(Barbara Keshen is staff attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.)

One thought on “Citizen Editorials

  1. How do I add my own voice here? I recently wrote in opposition to the death penalty in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and I had a similar letter to the editor about it published in the Sunday New York Times several years ago.

    Thanks.

    Phil Runyon

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