This Thursday at 2pm, the NH Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on SB 463-FN, which proposes a suspension on the death penalty in NH. The current plan is for the hearing to take place in the State House in Room 100.
SB-463 was authored by Republican Senators Kevin Avard and Gary Daniels, with Senators Bette Lasky and Molly Kelly coming on as Democrat co-sponsors. To win the support of several conservative lawmakers, the bill was written to create an indefinite suspension of the death penalty in NH, until such time as a mechanism is in place to ensure that no one who is innocent can be executed. Neither we nor the bill sponsors believe that time will ever come.
Since 1972, 156 death row inmates have been exonerated. More than 300 additional people are estimated to have been wrongly sentenced to death during that time, according to one study. How many more innocents there are sitting on death row, or have already been executed, we may never know. We do know that the justice system is imperfect and that race, class, and geography have more impact on who gets sentenced to death than the specifics of the crime. Even DNA forensics, already an imperfect science but which has been used to exonerate many people, is applicable in only about 15% of cases.
If passed, SB 463, while falling short of full repeal, would represent a major step towards ending the death penalty in New Hampshire. As a Republican-led effort, it would clearly demonstrate the ever-widening political support for ending capital punishment, and put us one step closer to its ultimate demise.
This year, for the hearing we are bringing in Ray Krone from Tennessee (shown in photo), the 100th death row exoneree; Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor; and Tom Parker, a former FBI Investigator. Others testifying will include several faith community leaders, former law enforcement leaders, murder victim family members, lawyers, legislators, a former NH Attorney General, a former NH Supreme Court Justice, and a psychiatrist, among others.