Today the government of Iran executed 16 so-called “rebels” by hanging, reportedly in retaliation for the killing of 14 guards at the Pakistani border. Barbaric, isn’t it?
Hanging is still a permitted method of execution in the State of New Hampshire, too. Sound barbaric? Think all forms of state-sponsored execution are barbaric?
If you said “yes,” then it’s time to join a growing campaign to wipe the death penalty off New Hampshire’s law books for good. The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty publicly launched its “Road to Repeal” this month with a statewide speaking tour by Kirk Bloodsworth and a State House news conference. The news conference drew religious leaders, former police officers, lawmakers from both major parties, and the judge who presided over the state’s homicide trials during his tenure as Chief Justice of the state’s Superior Court system.
Bloodsworth, the first person freed from death row based on DNA evidence that another man was responsible for the crime which nearly sent the ex-Marine to the gas chamber, delivered lectures at UNH Durham, Keene State College, ad Winnacunnet High School in Hampton. He also met with reporters and lawmakers, many of whom said they were moved by his story of surviving death row.
Bloodsworth was arrested in 1984 and charged with the brutal rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. He always maintained his innocence, but it was not until he read a book about the use of DNA to capture killers in England that he found a way to free himself after more than 8 years behind bars. “What happened to me could happen to anybody,” he told everyone he spoke to. Bloodsworth noted that of the 144 people exonerated from death row in recent , only 18 have used DNA evidence. “How many more innocent people do we have in prison?” he asked.
Regardless of guilt, though, Bloodsworth said “you can’t kill a person to say killing is wrong.” That’s a sentiment that has the approval of Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and Bishop Peter Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, both of whom spoke to reporters, lawmakers, and repeal advocates in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building on October 24.
“The death penalty neither deters others nor brings the perpetrator to
understanding but validates the taking of a human life,” the Catholic leader said. Bishop Hirschfeld called on everyone to “refuse to be contaminated by the sin of violence” and to resist the temptation to demand retribution for horrible crimes.
Ray Dodge, who served as Chief of Police for the Town of Marlborough, said “mistakes are inevitable” in our criminal justice system, no matter how skilled, experienced, and well-intentioned are the officers and prosecutors charged with bringing perpetrators to justice.
Following the former chief, former Chief Justice Walter Murphy delivered a lengthy speech, drawing on his years in court and his more recent experience as Chair of a legislatively created commission to study the state’s death penalty. “There is not one whit of evidence that the death penalty deters crime,” he said, and certainly no more deterrent effect than the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which is the statutorily mandated sentence for first degree murder.
Murphy noted that the case of Michael Addison, convicted in 2008 for the 2006 slaying of Michael Briggs, has already cost the state more than $5 million “and I’m told it will be double that by the time they finish the appeals.” Those funds could easily be put to better use, he said.
Rep. Renny Cushing, the repeal bill’s prime sponsor, said this is a “moment in history,” pointing out the fact that the 2012 gubernatorial election featured two major party candidates who opposed the death penalty. Governor Maggie Hassan, who prevailed at the ballot box in 2012, has indicated she opposes the death penalty on moral grounds and would sign a repeal bill as long as it does not undo the Addison sentence.
The repeal bill is the first on the list of nearly 700 bills already filed for the 2014 legislative session. Joining Cushing as legislative co-sponsors are an impressively diverse array of lawmakers, including liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, pro-choice and right-to-lifers, leading “free staters,” and three Representatives who lost their fathers to homicide. Passage will require their hard labor, but also the work of citizens who agree it’s time for the death penalty to be repealed. The best way to get on the road to repeal is to join the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.