Rep. Cushing leads bid to end N.H. death penalty

by Nick B. Reid, originally published at Seacoast Online.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty. AP photo/Jim Cole
Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty.
AP photo/Jim Cole

CONCORD, NH — A renewed movement was born in Concord to repeal capital punishment in the state, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, law enforcement, religious leaders and judiciaries on Thursday spoke out against the death penalty.

State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, is sponsoring a bill that would remove capital punishment from the books in New Hampshire. He said repeal has been inevitable, but we’re now in a “moment of history” in which he expects New Hampshire to be the seventh state in as many years to stop “ritual killings by public employees,” as Cushing refers to the death penalty.

Walking past the capitol building, Cushing said just as women’s suffrage and the abolishment of slavery were debated in those halls, so too will the debate surrounding capital punishment continue over the next legislative session.

Cushing, whose father was murdered in a crime some would argue warrants the death penalty but who has always been an opponent of capital punishment, said he has a healthy cross-section of supporters.

At a press conference Thursday at the Legislative Office Building, about 30 state representatives stood behind Cushing as he introduced the speakers commemorating a renewed effort that once passed both chambers of the Legislature in 2000 only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen; a subsequent override effort failed in the House despite a 194-148 majority.

In 2009, another bill that passed the House was tabled in the Senate after then-Gov. John Lynch said he’d veto it, Cushing recalled.

On the contrary, current Gov. Maggie Hassan supports capital punishment repeal.

Raymond Dodge, a retired police chief of 25 years in the state, said the most clear reason to repeal the death penalty is “the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.”

He noted that 140 people have been wrongfully convicted and sent to death row since 1973 only to later be exonerated. He said the exonerations have revealed cases “riddled with problems including mistaken eyewitness identifications, incompetent lawyers, shoddy forensics, unreliable jailhouse snitches and coerced confessions.”

The Rev. A Robert Hirschfeld, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, said one of the most horrible and brutal home invasions in American history occurred in his hometown in Connecticut, and as a human being his instinct is to exact retribution including the death penalty. But as a Christian, he said, he is “called to a higher and sacred ground.”

“Our society and our souls are healthier when we refuse to be contaminated by the sin of violence, even when we claim to administer such violence in the name of justice,” he said.

The Rev. Peter A Libasci, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, agreed. “The death penalty neither deters others, nor brings this perpetrator to understanding (of what the victim experienced).” he said. “Instead, in the worst of ironies, it publicly validates the very act of taking a human life.”

Walter L. Murphy, a retired chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court, spoke to the financial cost to the state of prosecuting and defending those convicted of the death penalty. He said more than $5 million has been spent on the case of Michael Addison, the lone person on death row in New Hampshire, who was convicted in 2008 of the 2006 murder of a Manchester police officer, and he expects that figure will double before Addison’s appeal to the Supreme Court is complete.

“Go to your constituents and tell them $1 million to $2 million a year is spent and the only ones that get anything out of it are the lawyers,” Murphy said. “What do you think their reactions will be?”

Murphy noted that it costs about $35,000 a year to imprison someone, so it’s cheaper and an equally effective deterrent to sentence the worst criminals to life without parole, he said.

“There can be no argument that the issues involved are complicated; there is no easily ascertainable answer,” Murphy said. “What is clear, however, is that those who seek to, in effect, reinstitute the death penalty — which has remained essentially dormant since 1939 (when it was last used in New Hampshire) — should have the burden to establish by means of convincing, reliable evidence that the death penalty is fair, necessary and effective. In my view, they have not done so.”

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