The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony for nearly three hours from some two dozen witnesses on April 4, with pro-repeal speakers outnumbering anti-repeal speakers by a ratio of 7 to 1.
Pro-repeal witnesses included family members of homicide victims, criminal defense attorneys, current and former law enforcement and corrections officers, clergy members from various denominations, as well as the prime sponsor, Sen. Kevin Avard, and another senatorial sponsor, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark.
Barbara Keshen, who worked as a prosecutor in the NH Attorney General’s Office and later as a Public Defender, testified about the Elizabeth Knapp murder case, where all evidence seemed to point to a live-in boyfriend, who felt pressured to confess and would likely have been put on death row but for a single piece of DNA evidence identifying the actual perpetrator.
“The NH criminal justice system is not infallible. Mistakes have been made and will be continued to be made by well-meaning, highly trained, professional and diligent people. The risk of executing an innocent person may be small, but it is real,” Keshen said.
Richard Van Wickler, Superintendent of Cheshire County Department of Corrections, testified that New Hampshire and other US states which permit the death penalty “align themselves with the moral compass of countries like China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”
Anne Lyczak of Portsmouth NH, one of several murder victim family members who testified, summed up their consensus on this issue: “Some people argue that the death penalty will bring closure or comfort to family members, but use of the death penalty on the gunman who shot my husband would provide absolutely no benefit to me or my family.”
Former NH Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas offered his customary full-throated support of the death penalty, even offering an amendment to expand it to include hate crimes. (See his Fosters.com op-ed here.)
SB 593 next moves to the Executive Session the Criminal Justice Committee for a recommendation before coming before the full House of Representatives.
You can listen to the full hearing on our YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/UTYM1cEcRww
Here is WMUR’s coverage of the hearing.
Here is the Concord Monitor’s coverage.
Here is US News & World Report’s (AP’s) coverage (also picked up by Seacoast Online and the Union Leader).