2014 House Criminal Justice Proceedings

Jan 16 Repeal Activists Holding Signs in front of LOB, Concord

The House Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing on January 16 and voted to recommend HB 1170 — the death penalty repeal bill — ought to pass by a margin of 14 to 3 on February 11 in executive session. Below are video, audiophotos, and news items from these proceedings.

Videos from the proceedings

Click to open video gallery
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Audio from the proceedings

Click here to listen to the recording of the death penalty show on NHPR’s The Exchange from Thursday, January 23.

Photos from the January 16 Hearing

News Items about January 16 and February 11

House committee backs death penalty repeal by large margin: Concord Monitor, February 11, 2014

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee endorsed a bill to repeal the death penalty in a 14-3 vote yesterday, with a handful of members who have previously opposed repeal changing their minds.

Among them was Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat and retired U.S. marshal, who served on a death penalty study commission created in 2009 and said he cast the deciding vote then against repeal.

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“It really is a barbaric practice and the time is now to put it aside, and I think to give somebody life imprisonment so they can think every day about what they’ve done is more of a punishment than ending their life,” Shurtleff said after the vote.

Shurtleff has supported the death penalty as a means of protecting law enforcement officers in the past. But he said testimony on the repeal bill and an article by former Manchester police officer John Breckenridge – whose partner Michael Briggs was killed in the line of duty – arguing in favor of repeal resonated with him and pushed him to change his view. (This bill as written would not change the status of Briggs’s killer, Michael Addison, who is on death row.)

Committee chairwoman Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Portsmouth Democrat, said she has also changed her mind because she believes the system is unequal. Addison, the only person on death row in New Hampshire, is black. In 1997, prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against Gordon Perry, a white man who shot police Officer Jeremy Charron. The last man who faced a possible death sentence was John Brooks, a white man who hired people to kill a handyman he believed stole from him. Brooks got life without parole in 2008.

“I can’t live in a state that has two separate groups of people,” Pantelakos said.

Rep. Robbie Parsons, a Milton Republican, took a long pause before casting a yes vote in favor of repeal. Before the vote, he pointed out that arguments of inequality could also serve in favor of expanding the death penalty to include all murders. Under state law, only people who murder a law enforcement official, murder for hire or murder during a drug sale, home invasion or rape or while serving a life sentence in prison can face the death penalty. But ultimately, Parsons said, this inequality argument persuaded him to vote for repeal, marking a change from his push to expand the death penalty in the past.

Republican Reps. Moe Villeneuve of Bedford and Larry Gagne of Manchester voted against the repeal along with Rep. Ronald Boisvert, a Manchester Democrat. Gagne said he will be in favor of the death penalty as long as abortion is legal. Murderers are afforded a trial by jury, but unborn babies do not have a chance to defend themselves, he said.

Reps. Gene Charron, a Chester Republican, Roger Berube, a Somersworth Democrat, and Andrew O’Hearne, a Claremont Democrat, were not present. The bill will now go to the full House.   (link to original article)

House committee votes to repeal the death penalty: Union Leader, February 11. 2014

CONCORD – Repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire took another step forward today when the House Criminal Justice and Public Works Committee voted 14-3 to pass House Bill 1170.

The vote to approve the repeal is the first for the committee, which has never backed doing away with the death penalty before.

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The bill’s prime sponsor, committee vice chair Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was gunned down by an off-duty Hampton police officer in 1988, said after the vote, “It’s been a long process and we still have a long ways to go.”

Lawmakers voted to repeal the death penalty in 2000 when Jeanne Shaheen was governor, but she vetoed the bill and lawmakers failed to override.

Other attempts to repeal the state’s capital murder statute have failed in either the House or the Senate. The full House will vote on HB 1170 within the next month. (link to original article) (Link to longer, updated article here)

N.H. Debates Death Penalty Repeal Bill: Valley News, January 17, 2014

Religious leaders, police officers, attorneys and family members of homicide victims urged lawmakers yesterday to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty law.

Dozens of speakers at a three-hour House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing yesterday voiced support for a bill that would repeal the state’s death penalty law. They cited moral and religious beliefs and concerns about cost, fairness and the danger of executing an innocent individual.

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 “I think we all owe a duty of fairness,” said Phil McLaughlin, a former state attorney general, who spoke yesterday about changing his mind on the death penalty.

McLaughlin said his opinion changed after his years as attorney general, and after his son who served in Iraq told him, “Our government shouldn’t kill its own people.”

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, the lead sponsor of the death penalty repeal bill before the House this year, announced yesterday that more than 100 representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, have added their names as co-sponsors. The bill also has two sponsors in the Senate: Sen. Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, and Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua.

Advocates for repealing the death penalty are focusing on the Senate, where previous public statements would suggest members are narrowly divided on the issue.

The bill marks the third time in the past 13 years that the Legislature has considered doing away with the death penalty. In 2000, a repeal bill passed both chambers but did not survive a veto from then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. The House passed a death penalty repeal bill in 2009 that did not receive support in the Senate.

New Hampshire only permits the death penalty for a narrow list of crimes: murder of a law enforcement official; murder for hire, murder during a kidnapping, drug sale, home invasion or rape; and murder while serving a life sentence in prison.

Michael Addison is New Hampshire’s only inmate on death row. He was convicted of the 2006 murder of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs, and his case is still pending before the state Supreme Court. The bill before the Legislature this year would not affect Addison’s case because it would only apply to crimes committed after the bill became law.

Nick Willard, assistant chief of the Manchester Police Department, led the investigation of Briggs’s murder. He was one of three people to voice support for the existing death penalty law Thursday.

Briggs’s partner, former Manchester police officer John Breckinridge, has spoken out in favor of the repeal. In an op-ed published in the Monitor this week, he said his Catholic faith led him to change his opinion.

Willard, however, said Briggs left behind writings about his support for the death penalty in the case of a murdered police officer.

“It’s emotional to hear the partner of Officer Michael Briggs say he didn’t believe in the death penalty because he found God,” Willard said. “But Michael Briggs did believe in the death penalty, and Michael Briggs found God on Oct. 17, 2006, and he’s been with him ever since.”

Ray Dodge, former chief of the Marlborough Police Department, said he does not support the death penalty.

“Let me be perfectly clear: I have no compassion nor sympathy for those who would murder another,” he said. “This is about a reasonable, rational and fiscally responsible administering of criminal justice here in New Hampshire.”

Chris Casko, an attorney for the state Department of Safety, spoke in favor of the death penalty Thursday.

“New Hampshire has used capital murder very sparingly,” he said. “I think that’s a demonstration of how careful and fair and just the legal system is here. We have not had someone executed since 1939.”

Opponents of the death penalty cited the same fact as a reason to repeal the law. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said the use of the death penalty has declined by 75 percent since 2000. Six states have repealed death penalty laws in the past six years; New Hampshire is one of 32 states that allows the death penalty.

Several speakers Thursday said the criminal justice system is not perfect, and juries can make mistakes.

“An exoneration for someone who is innocent and has been put to death is completely unavailable,” said Gregory Smith, another former New Hampshire attorney general.

Michael Iacopino, speaking for the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the death penalty has a “disproportionate impact on minorities and poor people.”

New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop the Rev. A. Robert Hirschfield and the Rev. Peter Libasci, bishop of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Manchester, both spoke Thursday in favor of repealing the death penalty.

“Repealing the death penalty is a way for the state to counteract and push back against the culture of violence,” Hirschfield said. “Wherever the death penalty is administered by the state, the dignity of all our citizens is diminished.”

Margaret Hawthorn, the mother of murder victim Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, was one of several family members of homicide victims who asked lawmakers to repeal the death penalty. Hawthorn-MacDougall was shot to death in her home in Henniker in 2010. While the death penalty was not considered in the case, Hawthron said she hopes convicted killer Roody Fleuraguste can honor her daughter’s life by changing his own while spending his life in prison.

“I believe some people are so broken that, for the protection of others, they do need to be contained permanently,” she said. “But I am not convinced that capital punishment contributes to public safety.”

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will make a recommendation on the bill before sending it to the full House for a vote.

Death penalty repeal backers far outnumber foes at House panel hearing
Jan 16, 2014
By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter, Manchester Union Leader

CONCORD — Knowing a death penalty repeal finally has a reasonable chance of becoming New Hampshire law this year, backers on Thursday jammed a public hearing, trying to spark momentum for the bill’s first hurdle — passage by the House of Representatives.

Two former attorneys general, several clergy members, including the Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester, a handful of law enforcement officers and about a dozen lawmakers testified that the death penalty is inhumane, not a deterrent to murder, is too expensive for taxpayers and may even be at odds with the state constitution.

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Opponents of repeal, far outnumbered, invoked the most heinous of recent New Hampshire crimes, the 2006 murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs and Mont Vernon mother Kimberly Cates, who was murdered during a home invasion in 2009.

The bill would not apply to Briggs’ murderer, Michael Addison, who is on death row. But opponents of repeal said the death penalty should remain on the books out of respect for him and warned there is no guarantee a court will not apply a repeal to Addison.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, heard more than three hours of testimony on House bill 1170, but not before, an overflow crowd at the originally scheduled hearing room forced the panel to move the hearing to Representatives Hall in the State House.

The bill has twice passed the House in the recent past, and this year should be no different. In the state Senate, which opposed the most recent repeal attempt in 2009, it is now is viewed as a “50-50” proposition.

The key factor is that Gov. Maggie Hassan, unlike her most recent predecessors of both political parties backs repeal, and, while she is not expected to lobby strongly for it, she is expected to sign the bill if it reaches her desk.

Prime sponsor and long-time repeal advocate Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was gunned down in 1988 by an off-duty police officer, said the bill has nine House and two Senate sponsors. Thursday, he submitted the names of 107 House co-sponsors, of both political parties.

In 2009, the House passed repeal but the Senate killed it. In 2000, a repeal bill passed the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Although 32 states have the death penalty and 18 do not, Cushing noted that six state have abolished the death penalty in the past six years, indicating, he and other repeal advocates said, a national trend.

Rep. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, put the issue in basic terms.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right, my Mom always told me that,” she said. “What would Jesus do? I don’t think he’d support” a death penalty.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester played the audio of a network news report of the mistaken execution of Carlos DeLuna in Texas in 1989.

Later found to have not committed the crime, Vaillancourt said, “We make mistakes. Police prosecutors make mistakes. In the name of Carlos DeLuna, please pass this bill.

State Sen. Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, a sponsor, cited a phrase in Article 18 of the New Hampshire Constitution that states, “The true design of all punishments being to reform, not to exterminate mankind.”

Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, a long-time pro-life advocate, said that just as government does not have a right to “take the lives of innocent unborn children,” it “does not have the right to sit in judgment” of others, even murderers, and take their lives.

But Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, strongly opposed repeal, saying she was prompted to run for the House by the attack on Kimberly Cates and her daughter Jaime, who eventually recovered from massive injuries.

In 2011, lawmakers passed and Gov. John Lynch signed into law an expansion of the state’s capital murder statute to include those convicted of murder during home invasions, she noted.

Former Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said he favored capital punishment for most of his life, but, “I have changed my mind.”

He said his son, a U.S. Marine who has seen combat in the Middle East and “is not wish-washy about matters of life and death, said to me, ‘My government shouldn’t kill its own people, Dad.'”

He was also moved by the children of Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop, who were murdered in 2001.

At the sentencing hearing, McLaughlin said, they “spoke of their compassion for their folks in loving memory and never uttered a word in retribution.”

Fellow former Attorney General Gregory Smith said that after spending many years a prosecutor, “I do not believe the death penalty does anything to add to public safety or protections for the citizens of New Hampshire.”

But Manchester Assistant Chief of Police Nicholas Willard, speaking on behalf of the department, said that unlike the attorneys general, “I have been to these murder scenes and investigated murder first-hand,” including the Briggs murder.

While Briggs’ partner, retired Officer John Breckenridge, now favors repeal on religious grounds, Willard said he was “speaking on behalf of the Briggs family.”

He said Briggs, before he died, expressed support for the death penalty for the murderer of his former Epsom Police Department partner, Officer Jeremy Charron, who was shot and killed in a gun battle in 1997.

When the Attorney General’s Office decided not to seek the death penalty in the Charron case, “Michael Briggs, in his own handwriting, had an issue with that,” said Willard.

“It’s important that the Briggs family is represented and that Mike Briggs have just as much of a voice in this as John Breckenridge,” Willard said.

Also opposing repeal was the New Hampshire Department of Safety. Agency attorney Christopher Casko said the state “has one of the lowest murder rates in the country, and we feel the existing law is supportive of that.”

Casko said that while the bill would not apply repeal to the Addison case, “We have legal concerns that the Supreme Court might disagree. If the bill passes, capital punishment will be abolished and that sentence may not be able to be legally carried out.

“We agree with the majority of law enforcement that this bill should not be passed,” said Casko said. “We believe there are a few offenses so unbelievably deliberate and egregious that society should retain the option of imposing the ultimate penalty.”

But criminal defense attorney Michael Iacopino said the penalty “cannot be equitably applied and has a disproportionate impact on minorities and poor people.

He also noted the Addison case has cost the state $7 million so far.

“It just costs too much” to impose the penalty, he said.

Larry Vogelman, a veteran criminal defense attorney and cofounder of the non-profit Innocence Project, said, “I am pleading to this committee for the future. I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men.”  Original Article 

Two Former N.H. AGs Back Death Penalty Repeal: NH Public Radio, January 16, 2014

Former Attorney Generals Phil McLaughlin and Greg Smith both told the House Criminal Justice Committee they’d prosecuted dozens of murders in their careers, and had they’ve come to believe the death penalty is wrong.

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McLaughlin said the very rarity of capital punishment in N.H. is an argument for its basic unfairness.

“If punishment supposed to be neither cruel nor unusual, how do you take 1 in a 1000 over 75 years and persuade people that’s not unusual?”

Greg Smith went even further.

“We have had two capital punishment cases in the recent past. The white man got life without parole, the one who was a black man got the death penalty. I find that deeply troubling.”

But Nick Willard, a Deputy Police Chief in Manchester who helped investigate the killing of police officer Michael Briggs defended the law and the prosecution of Michael Addison.

He told lawmakers he spoke for Micheal Briggs and that eliminating the death penalty would hurt Briggs’ family.

As drafted, repeal bill is prospective, and would only apply to cases brought after it became law.

NH death penalty opponents push repeal effort: Boston.com, January 16, 2014

At a Thursday hearing on ramped up efforts to abolish capital punishment, family and friends of murder victims fell down on opposite sides of a New Hampshire bill to repeal the death penalty.

The Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment in 2000, but then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill.

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 Now Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty. The bill, if passed, would take effect Jan. 1.

At the hearing, so well attended it was moved to a larger room in the Statehouse, Cushing stressed that repeal would not affect the state’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison.

Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall was killed during a home invasion, spoke for repeal.

“I would not want anyone killed in her name,’’ said Hawthorn, whose daughter was shot to death in her Henniker home in 2010.

As a New Hampshire resident and taxpayer, Hawthorn said, ‘‘I hope I never dishonor my daughter by becoming an accomplice to state-sanctioned murder when murder is the thing that took my daughter from me.’’

Robert Curley of Cambridge, Mass., whose 10-year-old son was kidnapped and killed in 1997, said he lobbied for the death penalty after his son’s murder, but became an opponent when the most sadistic of his son’s assailants was convicted of a lesser crime and received a lesser sentence than an accomplice who was just along for the ride.

“It doesn’t take long to figure out the system is a great system, but it’s not perfect and it’s not fair,’’ Curley said. ‘‘It’s been a long journey, and I’m glad to come up and support the repeal of the death penalty.’’

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would support repeal if it doesn’t affect the case against Addison, who was sentenced to die for the 2006 shooting death of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.

‘‘We have a person on death row that the system has made sure he’s where he should be,’’ Manchester Assistant Police Chief Nick Willard told members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Willard recalled that Briggs had been upset about a prosecutor’s decision not to seek the death penalty in the case against Gordon Perry. Perry was convicted of killing Epson Officer Jeremy Charron in 1997, when Briggs also was on the Epson police force. Briggs was scheduled to work Charron’s shift the night Charron was killed, but Charron returned home early from a trip and waived Briggs off.

Both liberals and conservatives are principle sponsors of the repeal bill and a list of lawmakers who endorse the measure include a smattering of Republicans.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, who sponsored a bill last year that expanded the death penalty to killings during home invasions, spoke against repeal. The Merrimack Republican said she was speaking for Kimberly Cates, whose ‘‘heinous murder’’ was among the reasons Notter chose to run for state representative.

Cates was hacked to death in her Mont Vernon home and her 11-year-old daughter maimed during a home invasion in 2009.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the six states that have repealed the death penalty in the last six years have done so prospectively, meaning those on death row at the time remained under sentences of death.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling in November upholding Addison’s convictions and sentence marked the first time in more than half a century the state’s highest court has reviewed a capital case.

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