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

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.


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.


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.


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.


My Turn: Death penalty is often cruel and unusual
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.


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.


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.


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
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.


Questions on capital punishment? Ask Prof. Gallows

By John Breneman
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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


 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.



My Turn: Does death penalty deter murders? Argument doesn’t hold up
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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



Letter: Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind
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.



My Turn: Death penalty is an instrument of violence, vengeance
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!”



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


Pastor: Forgiving son’s killer helped healing process
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.


New Hampshire should repeal death penalty
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.


State can’t afford inefficient death penalty
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.


A statement issued to the The Exchange
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.


My Turn: Martin Luther King’s first fight was against the death penalty
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.


History and geography color arguments on capital punishment
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.


Ex-police officer Breckinridge: I choose life – for myself and Michael Addison 
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.


To Kill or Not to Kill
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.


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.


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.


Repeal of the death penalty

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.”


The Most Rev. Peter Anthony Libasci, Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld: Death penalty violates the sanctity of life and must be abolished
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.


New Hampshire needs to end the death penalty

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


Letter: Injustice of death penalty in N.H. is black and white
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.


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.



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.


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.


    Phil Runyon

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