On February 20, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee deliberated on HB 455, a bill to repeal the death penalty. Rep. David Welch moved “Ought to Pass” on the bill, which was immediately seconded by a number of those present.
Reps. Meuse, Rodd, Opderbecke, Harriot-Gathright, Swinburne all spoke in favor of the bill, citing a variety of reasons, ranging from the death penalty as revenge, the possibility of redemption, and the inherent unfairness of death qualified juries. Rep. Welch stated how he has changed on this issue, now believing that the death penalty only creates more grieving family, and how his position is consistent with his pro-life views. Rep. Bordenet pointed out how the rich rarely receive the death penalty. Reps. Murphy and Newman spoke about the possibility of making mistakes.
Rep. Renny Cushing, the prime sponsor of the bill, spoke about the murder of his father and brother-in-law. He shared how the one thing victim family members want is to return the life of the loved one, and that the death penalty cannot make that happen and does not aid in the healing process. “I don’t want to live in a world where I’m told what I should want as a victim survivor is to perpetrate the killing of yet another person.”
Following the discussion, the committee voted 11-6 to support the Ought to Pass motion.
Yesterday, a public hearing took place on the bill, where approximately 100 people spoke, with 95 in favor and 5 opposed. Those in favor of repeal included murder victim family members, members of the clergy from many different faiths, former judges and members of law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, and many ordinary citizens.
Barbara Keshen, former Assistant Attorney General and chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said of today’s vote, “The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee today voted to enshrine in law what has all but been the practice in New Hampshire for 80 years: that we do not favor the state-sanctioned killing of our fellow citizens.” Keshen added, “New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.”
HB 455 would replace the sentence of death with life in prison without parole. NH has not executed anyone since 1939.