NH Senate Deadlocks on Death Penalty Suspension Measure

NH Senate Considers SB 463 on March 3, 2016
NH Senate Considers SB 463 on March 3, 2016

The New Hampshire Senate voted today to overturn the Senate Judiciary Committee recommendation of Ought to Pass on SB 463 which suspends the implementation of the death penalty until it can be ensured that it is not being imposed on innocent people. Following a 12-12 vote on an amendment offerd by Senator Pierce that would have fully repealed the death penalty, the original bill was tabled on a voice vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee supported the bill on a bipartisan 3-1 vote after they heard overwhelming testimony in support of the bill from a death row exoneree, clergy, law enforcement, a former FBI Special Agent, a judge, and the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“We are very disappointed that the Senate would ignore the committee vote. As a former prosecutor, I have seen first hand how innocent people can be convicted of crimes they did not commit. Since 1972, 156 death row inmates in the United States have been exonerated. It is unacceptable to have a system that kills innocent people,” said Barbara Keshen, NHCADP’s Board Chair.

For the time being, NH remains the only New England state that still has the death penalty on its books.

A notable development for our efforts this year was that two conservative Republicans, Senator Kevin Avard and Senator Gary Daniels, co-authored the bill and worked hard to move their Senate peers. This is the kind of progress that NHCADP can build on. Please take a moment today to send them thank you’s:

The full roll call vote (on the full repeal amendment) was as follows:

Avard, Kevin A. – Yea
Birdsell, Regina – Nay
Boutin, David R – Nay
Bradley, Jeb – Nay
Carson, Sharon M – Nay
Cataldo, Sam – Yea
D’Allesandro, Lou – Nay
Daniels, Gary L. – Yea
Feltes, Dan – Yea
Forrester, Jeanie L – Nay
Fuller Clark, Martha – Yea
Hosmer, Andrew J. – Yea
Kelly, Molly M – Yea
Lasky, Bette R – Yea
Little, Gerald H. – Nay
Morse, Chuck W – Nay
Pierce, David – Yea
Prescott, Russell E – Nay
Reagan, John – Nay
Sanborn, Andy – Nay
Soucy, Donna M. – Yea
Stiles, Nancy F – Nay
Watters, David H – Yea
Woodburn, Jeff – Yea

You may wish to write to your Senator with thanks (or encouragement to reconsider) using our online tool here.

A video of the just under 14-minute proceeding can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/VOVtoP73MkQ.


Update: Progress on SB 463 – Death Penalty Suspension bill

Update 2.22.16: The Senate floor debate and vote on SB 463 will be on Thursday, March 3! Please write a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local newspaper and to the Union Leader today! See our LTE tool here (sample talking points are provided on that page).

Update 2.16.16: On Tuesday, February 16, the Senate Judiciary held an executive session on SB 463. There was little debate or discussion, and as the members of that committee are mostly pro-repeal Senators, they voted 3-to-1 for an “OTP” or ought-to-pass recommendation on the bill. Voting for: Senators Daniels, Pierce, and Cataldo. Voting against: Senator Carson. (Sen. Lasky was absent but supports the bill). The bill will now move to the full Senate, perhaps as soon as the week Starting February 29. Stay tuned!

On Thursday, January 28, we held an effective hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the proposed death penalty suspension bill. More than 20 people testified in favor of the bill, and only 2 against. Supporters included a death row exoneree, clergy, law enforcement, a former FBI Special Agent, a former NH Attorney General, a former NH Surpreme Court Justice, several attorneys, several murder victim family members, among others.

(Concord) – A broad group of people testified today in support of SB 463, which suspends the implementation of the death penalty until it can be ensured that it is not being imposed on innocent people. The bill is sponsored by Senator Kevin Avard and Senator Gary Daniels and was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ray Krone, before his exoneration in 2002, spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit.

“In 1991 my world was turned upside down when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar and I was arrested for the crime. The case against me was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposed ‘expert’ witness, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched my teeth. This testimony was later discredited but I was sentenced to death in 1992.

“In 2002 I became the 100th person to be exonerated from death row when DNA found at the murder scene indicated the guilt of another man. My situation is not unique, innocent people are being executed and it must stop,” said Krone.

Barbara Keshen, former prosecutor for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and current chair of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told the committee that despite New Hampshire having an excellent justice system, it isn’t perfect. She talked about a New Hampshire case she handled in which an innocent man came very close to being convicted.

“To date over 150 death row inmates have been exonerated after evidence surfaced that they were wrongly convicted,” said Keshen. “These exonerations resulted from mistaken eyewitness identifications, incompetent legal counsel, shoddy forensic results, jailhouse snitches and coerced confessions. Can we really say that it is impossible for an innocent person to be executed in this state?” asked Keshen.

Tom Parker is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who spent 24 years with the FBI and has conducted or supervised over 10,000 Federal and state criminal investigations.  For the past 20 years, he has served as an expert witness on police practices and investigative competency in homicide cases all across the country.

“In homicide investigations, I have seen countless instances of falsified investigative reports, witness tampering, erroneous or coached eye witness identifications, the destruction of exculpatory evidence, fictitious crime lab results including incompetent DNA testing, and perjured testimony. The most frightening part of all of this is the volume and frequency of these transgressions committed by police officers.  We arrest and convict innocent people almost every day in this country, and there is now a growing body of proof that we have convicted and executed innocent people for crimes they did not commit. As long as we have a death penalty in America, we will continue to execute innocent people,” said Parker.

Also testifying before the committee was Sam Millsap, a lawyer in practice for over 40 years and currently an Adjunct Professor of Law at St. Mary’s University Law School. “When I was the elected District Attorney in San Antonio, Texas, I oversaw the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of Ruben Cantu. I asked the jury to sentence him to die based on the eyewitness testimony of a single person and they did.  Years after his execution that key eyewitness recanted his testimony. There is no appeal after an execution takes place. Ruben Cantu is dead and I have to live with that every day,” said Millsap.

See also:

NH1 News: Wrongly convicted murderer comes to NH to push for repeal of state’s death penalty (video)

Concord Monitor: Evidence mounts against death penalty

That is the description of Senate Bill 463, a bipartisan piece of legislation that is the very definition of reasonable: Until the justice system is perfect, the state shouldn’t execute anybody.

For opponents of the death penalty in New Hampshire, it is just another chapter in a fight that has been raging many for years. Unless a great number of lawmakers suddenly find the political will to do the right thing, its passage is doubtful.

The trouble is that this is a society too accepting of collateral damage. Politicians talk of innocents killed by American weapons overseas as if the victims weren’t people at all but rather battlefield layers to be stripped away. And then they strip away the social safety net to punish the lazy and those who wish to exploit the system. If a few kids go to bed hungry or live on the streets, so be it. The same goes for death row. If one innocent person out of 25 guilty ones has to die, that is simply the price to be paid in this eye-for-an-eye world.

Anyone who has read Franz Kafka should feel a chill: In his world, you are that one out of 25. One day you are living your hardscrabble life and the next you are in a cell answering questions about a heinous crime of which you have no knowledge. But there’s enough evidence, and enough investigative incompetence, to suggest otherwise. Once those who hold your fate in their hands are convinced of your guilt, it’s just a matter of making the pieces fit together, even when they don’t.

But that’s not a Kafka novel; it’s Kevin Cooper’s story.

There is no riveting Netflix documentary about him, so don’t feel bad if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Cooper has been on death row in California since 1985, after he was found guilty of murdering Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes in Chino Hills. It was a brutal crime. According to a lengthy NBC News report last month, the victims received more than 144 wounds in four minutes. The one survivor, 8-year-old Josh Ryen, had his throat slit.

Although Josh would later point the finger at Cooper, a black man, he initially told police that three white or Latino men murdered his parents, according to NBC. Other witnesses spotted three white men driving away from the house in the family’s stolen station wagon. And a woman called police to say that on the night of the murders she found her husband’s coveralls splattered with blood. He was a white man and convicted murderer. The police never tested the blood on the coveralls, NBC reported, and instead discarded them in a dumpster.

As sometimes happens, the police had their man and any evidence that didn’t fit that narrative was discarded. So Cooper was sentenced to be executed on Feb. 10, 2004. The Ninth Circuit Court decided at the last minute to review his case, NBC reported, eventually ordering new proceedings after a number of problems were found with the original case. That led to five years of legal wrangling before the conviction was ultimately upheld in 2009. This past November, California lifted its moratorium on executions, and so the hands of time began moving faster for a potentially innocent man waiting for his final day on Earth.

Cooper is black. He is poor. He was on the run from police – and hiding out in a house near the crime scene – when the murders happened. If Cooper is indeed innocent, as several federal judges have suggested, it has all the makings of a Kafkaesque nightmare.

One of these years, New Hampshire lawmakers will wake up and realize that to take one innocent life is to take one too many, and so will abolish the death penalty.

Let this be the year.

NH: Hearing for Death Penalty Suspension Bill Thursday 1/28/16

SB463-FN-CropThis 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.

Ray Krone, the 100th US Death Row Exoneree
Ray Krone, the 100th US Death Row Exoneree

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.

Read the Bill (PDF).

The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report

click for larger version
click for larger version

On December 16, DPIC released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment, “The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report.” The death penalty declined by virtually every measure in 2015. 28 people were executed, the fewest since 1991. Death sentences dropped 33% from last year’s historic low, with 49 people being sentenced to death this year. There have now been fewer death sentences imposed in the last decade than in the decade before the U.S. Supreme Court declared existing death penalty laws unconstitutional in 1972. Just six states carried out executions, the fewest since 1988; and three states (TexasMissouri, and Georgia) accounted for 86% of all executions. For the first time since 1995, the number of people on death row fell below 3,000. Public support for the death penalty also dropped, and the 2015 American Values Survey found that a majority of Americans prefer life without parole to the death penalty as punishment for people convicted of murder. Six people were exonerated from death row this year, bringing the total number of exonerations since 1973 to 156. “The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director. See DPIC’s Press ReleaseView a video summarizing the report. (Click image to enlarge.)

The report also includes a discussion of executions this year that involved inmates who had symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or extreme trauma. It covers developments across the country related to lethal injection, and features quotes from notable voices who spoke about the death penalty this year.

(“The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report,” DPIC, December 16, 2015). See other DPIC Reports.)

2015 Annual Gathering Photos and Keynote

Photos will slide. You may also see all photos on Facebook here: 2015 Annual Gathering.

Download Senator Coash’s Keynote Address (mp3, 25.5MB):

The Conservative Case for Ending the Death Penalty:
How Nebraska Did It

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS: Click on link above (opens in new window), then right-click on file, and click “Download” to save to your computer. It will play in most any audio program.

Ron Paul: Death Penalty is Big Government at Its Worst

Ron PaulJune 15, 2015. Nebraska’s legislature recently made headlines when it ended the state’s death penalty. Many found it odd that a conservatives-dominated legislature would support ending capital punishment, since conservative politicians have traditionally supported the death penalty. However, an increasing number of conservatives are realizing that the death penalty is inconsistent with both fiscal and social conservatism. These conservatives are joining with libertarians and liberals in a growing anti-death penalty coalition.

It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty. New Hampshire recently spent over $4 million dollars prosecuting just two death penalty cases, while Jasper County in Texas raised property taxes by seven percent in order to pay for one death penalty case! A Duke University study found that replacing North Carolina’s death penalty would save taxpayers approximately $22 million dollars in just two years.

Death penalty cases are expensive because sentencing someone to death requires two trials. The first trial determines the accused person’s guilt, while the second trial determines if the convicted individual “deserves” the death penalty. A death sentence is typically followed by years of appeals, and sometimes the entire case is retried.

Despite all the time and money spent to ensure that no one is wrongly executed, the system is hardly foolproof. Since 1973, one out of every ten individuals sentenced to death has been released from death row because of evidence discovered after conviction.

The increased use of DNA evidence has made it easier to clear the innocent and identify the guilty. However, DNA evidence is not a 100 percent guarantee of an accurate verdict. DNA evidence is often mishandled or even falsified. Furthermore, DNA evidence is available in only five to 10 percent of criminal cases.

It is not surprising that the government wastes so much time and money on such a flawed system. After all, corruption, waste, and incompetence are common features of government programs ranging from Obamacare to the TSA to public schools to the post office. Given the long history of government failures, why should anyone, especially conservatives who claim to be the biggest skeptics of government, think it is a good idea to entrust government with the power over life and death?

Death penalty supporters try to claim the moral high ground by claiming that the death penalty deters crime. But, if the death penalty is an effective deterrent, why do jurisdictions without the death penalty have a lower crime rate than jurisdictions with the death penalty? And why did a 2009 survey find that the majority of American police chiefs consider the death penalty the least effective way to reduce violent crime?

As strong as the practical arguments against the death penalty are, the moral case is much stronger. Since it is impossible to develop an error-free death penalty system, those who support the death penalty are embracing the idea that the government should be able to execute innocent people for the “greater good.” The idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their right to life for imaginary gains in personal safety is even more dangerous to liberty than the idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their property rights for imaginary gains in economic security.

Opposition to allowing the government to take life is also part of a consistent pro-life position. Thus, those of any ideology who oppose abortion or preemptive war should also oppose the death penalty. Until the death penalty is abolished, we will have neither a free nor a moral society.

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