House Criminal Justice Committee Rejects HB 351

House Criminal Justice Committee rejects HB 351, death penalty expansion bill, by 17-3 vote

Concord, NH – February 22, 2017

Today the NH House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 17-3 to recommend an ITL (inexpedient to legislate) motion on HB 351, a bill to expand the death penalty by making “a person who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder.” The bill was sponsored by Rep. Werner Horn (R, Merrimack-2) and had the backing of the Republican Leadership. HB 351 will now proceed to the full House for consideration sometime in the next few weeks.

Barbara Keshen, chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP), said, “We’re pleased that the Criminal Justice Committee decided to halt further expansion of NH’s death penalty statute.” During Keshen’s public testimony on the bill, she said, “the death of any child is heartbreaking, but most child murders I saw [while a state prosecutor and defense attorney] were the result of overwhelmed or mentally unstable parents.” Keshen went on to say that “making the killing of a child a capital offense would have done nothing to prevent or deter those terrible tragedies.” She also shared the story of a near-wrongful conviction that could have sent an innocent person to death row in NH.

Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of ACLU-NH, said, “An overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the Committee rightly recommended that House should reject HB 351-FN.  The bill proposes a broad expansion of the death penalty in New Hampshire that is not only unnecessary, it would be exorbitantly expensive and risk wrongful executions in highly emotional cases.”

During the public hearing on HB 351 on February 7, death row exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter shared her story of spending almost 3 years on death row in Mississippi after her wrongful conviction in the death of her 9-month-old son. Porter told the committee that her case was overturned on appeal “when my new attorney also showed that my son died from a hereditary kidney condition.” Porter later told her story on NH Senator Kevin Avard’s (R, District 12) “Speak Up” cable show on Access Nashua, which can be found on YouTube.

New Hampshire has only one person on death row and has not executed anyone since 1939.

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