by Kimberly Haas, originally published in Foster’s Daily Democrat.
DOVER, NH — Punishment is leaving someone in jail for the rest of their life when they are convicted of murder. The death penalty is a “great example of a government program that doesn’t work,” according to advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.
“I say that if you want to punish someone you must leave them in prison for the rest of their life,” Kirk Bloodsworth, the director of advocacy for Witness to Innocence said during a private interview at Foster’s Daily Democrat Friday afternoon.
Bloodsworth was joined by Renny Cushing, a state representative from Hampton who is currently in the process of submitting a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire, Arnold Alpert, New Hampshire coordinator for American Friends Service Committee and Mona Cadena, a campaign strategist at Equal Justice of USA.
Bloodsworth was a keynote speaker at “The Road to Repeal: Ending the Death Penalty in New Hampshire in 2014” at the University of New Hampshire Thursday night.
Bloodsworth was sentenced to death in 1985 after he was convicted of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland. In 1992, Bloodsworth read about a new forensic breakthrough called DNA fingerprinting and lobbied for its use on evidence collected at the crime scene. The tests established his innocence and he was pardoned by the governor of Maryland in 1994.
The bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire is already garnering broad bipartisan support in the Legislature, according to Cushing, who is a Democrat. There are 10 sponsors in the House of Representatives, representing a mix of Democrats and Republicans.
State Sen. Sam Cataldo, R.-Farmington, who spoke at the UNH presentation Thursday night, is expected to present Cushing’s bill to the Senate.
Cushing’s father was gunned down by an off-duty Hampton police officer in 1988, but he said his position on the topic is more ethically and financially based than personally rooted.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has the death penalty, according to Cadena. If a person is charged with the death penalty for a federal crime in Massachusetts, they are brought to New Hampshire to be executed, Cushing said.
“From our perspective, the death penalty is a very specific way to focus in on problems within our justice system,” Cadena said. “We would like to see a criminal justice system that works for all of us.”
“Money spent there is money that is not spent somewhere else,” Cadena continued. “With the time it takes to prosecute, five first-degree homicide trials could have been completed in the courts.”
Cushing pointed out that the Michael Addison case has sucked up more than $3 million in state resources. Addison was sentenced with the death penalty after being convicted of killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.
Currently under state law the death penalty can be used in capital murder cases. A person can be found guilty of capital murder in instances such as if they knowingly cause the death of a law enforcement officer or judicial officer acting in the line of duty; if a person is killed during the commission or the attempted commission of a kidnapping, burglary or aggravated felonious sexual assault; and in murder-for-hire cases.
Recent attempts to abolish the death penalty have failed, but this year may be different because Gov. Maggie Hassan publicly said during her campaign for office that she opposes the death penalty.
Alpert said abolishing the death penalty is in line with the philosophy of taxpayers and the motto of the state.
“What is the state motto? ‘Live Free or Die.’ Freedom is not fundamental in prison. In prison someone has the ability to watch TV, smoke cigarettes or exercise, but they have lost their freedoms,” Alpert said when talking about why life in prison is a better punishment than death.
When asked if life in prison is really just an extension of the streets and a place where gangs can continue their underground activities, Bloodsworth based his answers on years of experience as an inmate.
“It is not ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ It’s none of that,” he said.
Bloodsworth had presented at Winnacunnet High School earlier in the day, talking to students about his personal prison story.
“Like today, I told them what prison is like. It’s no summer camp or spa they are living at. People tell you when you can go to the bathroom, when you can eat, when you can take a shower, when you work. You lose the keys to your life,” Bloodsworth said.
Other issues, such as the variations in use of the death penalty in different counties within states allowing it and the fact that minorities are sentenced to death in disproportional rates, prove to Bloodsworth and other advocates that changes need to be made and the death penalty needs to be abolished, Cadena said.
More information about abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire can be found at nodeathpenaltynh.org.