House repeal hearing shows overwhelming support

Photo by Scott Langley

On February 19, nearly 200 people gathered in Representatives Hall at the State House to give testimony on HB 455, a bill to repeal the death penalty, in front of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The large majority of those  who rose to speak were in favor of repealing the death penalty, by a margin of 95-5.

Among those testifying for the bill were Richard O’Leary, former Deputy Chief of Manchester Police Dept., Phil McLaughlin, former NH Attorney General, Bette Lasky, former NH State Senator, and Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated from death row using DNA evidence. They were joined by numerous murder victim family members, members of the clergy from many different faiths, former judges and members of law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, and many ordinary citizens.

Robert Dunham, Executive Director of Death Penalty Information Center, a national non-profit, pointed out that the death penalty does not protect law enforcement as is often claimed. He cited statistics that NH has a higher officer homicide rate compared to neighboring New England states, none of which has the death penalty.

Richard O’Leary spoke about his interaction with family members of murder victims, saying “They were not interested in revenge or to keep getting reminded of their loss every year for 15 or 20 years, every time another appeal happens.”

Diane Murphy Quinlan, Chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, spoke on behalf of Bishop Peter Libasci, urging the legislature to abolish the death penalty, “not just because it is an attack on the dignity of the human person, but because it does not deter murders.” She also spoke about her father, Walter Murphy, former Chief Justice of the NH Superior Court, who served on the Death Penalty Study Commission from 2009-2010, who concluded that “the death penalty experiment has failed.”

Shannon McGinley spoke about the waste of taxpayer dollars for building a space to execute human beings. “We should respect human life from the time of conception to the time of natural death,” said McGinley, adding the sentiment that the government should not have the right to decide who lives and who dies.

Representative David Welch, who for many years supported the death penalty, stood to oppose it, saying that “it only creates another grieving family.”

Barbara Keshen, former Assistant Attorney General and chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said, “executing murderers does not protect law enforcement,” saying that instead that “we should do more to support the families of victims, both financially and with more comprehensive victim services.”

Ray Dodge, former Marlborough NH Police Chief, spoke about how the death penalty does not deter murders and how in practice the death penalty is not reserved for the worst of the worst.

Former NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was one of several who spoke in opposition of the bill, warning the committee that abolishing the death penalty would mean that Michael Addison, the sole person on death row in New Hampshire, would likely not be executed. She expressed the opinion that NH’s death penalty is narrowly applied and should be retained.

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