Editorial: Portsmouth Herald supports repeal of N.H. death penalty

Originally published in the Portsmouth Herald.

Hampton state Rep. Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, officially launched a campaign Thursday to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Cushing was joined in Concord by the Catholic and Episcopal bishops, law enforcement representatives and crime victim advocates. We join them in voicing our support of death penalty repeal.

In our view, the death penalty is simply not justice. While we understand and respect the arguments in favor of putting to death those convicted of the worst capital crimes, we’re convinced by the evidence that the damage capital punishment inflicts on society far outweighs the good.

We agree with Judge Walter Murphy, who served in 2009 as chairman of the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire.

“There is no assurance that the death penalty does what its advocates claim is its purpose; nor is there any reason to believe it is necessary for public safety,” Murphy wrote in the commission’s final report. “The alternative, that is, life without the possibility of parole, offers the same protection without the attendant risks of mistakes and without the vast expense both monetary and otherwise.”

The arguments against the death penalty are too numerous to fully list, but the following are four top reasons to repeal:

New Hampshire’s 2009 commission report revealed that improvements in DNA testing have shown many people on death row were wrongly convicted and 17 cases “where a condemned defendant was exonerated by DNA evidence.” The Innocence Project reports more than 200 wrongful convictions in capital cases over the past two decades. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that 138 individuals have been released from death row since 1973.

One of those wrongly convicted, Kirk Bloodwirth, recently visited the Seacoast and shared his story with audiences at the University of New Hampshire, Winnacunnet High School and Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.

A former U.S. Marine, Bloodsworth was convicted of murdering a child in the mid-1980s. In 1992, evidence was DNA-tested and proved he could not have been the killer. He was released and pardoned in 1993, and the state of Maryland paid him restitution of $300,000.

“If it can happen to an honorably discharged Marine without a criminal record, it can happen to anyone,” Bloodsworth said.

The justice system is not infallible. The death penalty removes the possibility of correcting miscarriages of justice.

Because the legal threshold is so high, putting someone to death is also far more expensive than putting them in prison for life without the possibility of parole. Judge Murphy notes that to date, $4 million has been spent prosecuting and fighting the appeals of the state’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison, who was convicted of killing a Manchester police officer in 2006.

Because New Hampshire has not put anyone to death since 1939, it would also be required to build a new capital punishment facility estimated at $1.5 million. While putting someone in prison for life is expensive, the commission found it is far less expensive than the death penalty. We would rather see that money go to support the families of murder victims or, as Judge Murphy suggests, adequately fund the state’s cold case unit to find criminals who have literally gotten away with murder.

Many of the most outspoken death penalty critics are, like Cushing, family members of murder victims. They testify that the lengthy legal process prevents them from healing and that they do not want more blood spilled in their name.
Finally, the commission received no convincing evidence that capital punishment deters crime.

Because the risk of error is too high, the cost is exorbitant, it doesn’t help victims heal and has not been proven a deterrent to crime, we support repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire.

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