Monthly Archives: October 2013

Large Crowd Gathers for Road to Repeal Press Conference

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Former Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy speaks at the Press Conference

Click here to watch videos of other press conference speakers.
Click here to read more news articles about the press conference.

Death Penalty Foes Gather to Alter Attitudes

by Garry Rayno, originally published Oct 24 in the Manchester Union Leader.

CONCORD, NH — The state’s death penalty has not been used since 1939, and no one was on death row for decades until Michael Addison was convicted of the murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2008.

Judge Murpy
Former Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy

In 1834, Democratic Gov. William Badger was the first to ask the Legislature to abolish the death penalty, and the 2014 General Court will try again.

Lawmakers, religious leaders, law enforcement and judicial officials, and families of murder victims made their case Thursday to abolish the death penalty in an event to begin a campaign to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing

Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was gunned down by an off-duty Hampton police officer, is the prime sponsor of a 2014 bill to abolish capital punishment.

“This is a remarkable effort that cuts across the classic political divide,” said Cushing at a press conference attended by well over 50 people, “to make sure New Hampshire lives without capital punishment.”

He noted in the last election that the two gubernatorial candidates opposed the death penalty.

The 2000 Legislature approved abolishing the death penalty, but former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it. In 2010, the House approved abolishing capital punishment butthe Senate killed the bill before former Gov. John Lynch could veto it.

Catholic Bishop Libasci, Episcopal Bishop Hirschfeld

Traditionally, abolishing the death penalty is opposed by law enforcement and those who argue people who commit the most heinous crimes do not deserve to live.

But speakers at the press conference said the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder or other violent crimes.

“There is not a wit of evidence that the death penalty deters crime generally,” said former Superior Court Chief Justice Walter Murphy, “no more than the minimum mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole.”

He and others said that innocent people could be executed and the state would be responsible when that happens.

DSC02296“Our criminal justice system is a good system, but it is not perfect,” said retired Marlborough Police Chief Raymond Dodge. “It is a system designed and administered by imperfect human beings. Mistakes are inevitable.”

Diocese of Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci and Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Robert Hirschfeld told why their faith makes them oppose the death penalty.

“The death penalty neither deters others, nor brings the perpetrator to understanding, but instead, in the worst of ironies, publicly validates the very act of taking a human life,” Libasci said. “The death penalty does not help the criminal to understand the magnitude of what he or she has done; it reinforces instead, the terrifying notion that there is ultimately, no sacrilege in the taking of human life.”

Barbara Keshen, NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Chair, said “The death penalty is a failed policy that does nothing to make our communities safer. It is divisive, distracts from real needs of victims, and elevates the story of the killer.”

Keshen, who once served as a criminal prosecutor, said victims tell her the death penalty is a cruel joke that keeps them involved with the criminal justice system year after year and prevents them from going on their lives.

Murphy noted the Addison case has already cost $5 million to prosecute and defend and is expected to cost $10 million before all the appeals are exhausted.

“Why don’t you go to your constituents and tell them you want to spend $1 million to $2 million dollars a year on a program that the only ones getting anything out of it are lawyers,” Murphy said. “What do you think their reaction would be?”

He blasted lawmakers for expanding the death penalty two years ago to include home invasions after the murder of Kimberly Gates in her Mont Vernon home by four teenagers.“That was a knee-jerk reaction if ever there was one,” Murphy said. “The death penalty never would have stopped those kids.”

The repeal is expected to pass the House, but the Senate vote is expected to be close.

[Read the article at the Union Leader]

Watch video and read more news about the press conference.

NH Campaign Launch at UNH a Success

DNA exoneree’s journey, strong bipartisan leadership headline the meeting

Rep. John Cebrowski, Sen. Sam Cataldo
Watch Kirk Bloodsworth Presentation Here.

An enthusiastic crowd of activists, legislators and students attended The Road to Repeal: Ending the Death Penalty in New Hampshire in 2014 event on October 10 at the University of NH. The event marked the observance of World Death Penalty Abolition Day as well as the submission of a new death penalty repeal bill to the NH legislature and the launch of the repeal campaign in NH.

The campaign is already garnering broad bipartisan support in the NH Legislature with a balanced mix of Democrats and Republicans co-sponsoring. Representative Robert “Renny” Cushing of Hampton, a long-time death penalty repeal advocate and founder and executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, spoke about his history as a murder victim family member and his observations about why some resist repealing the death penalty and how they might be encouraged to come around. Cushing was joined by two Republicans who are co-sponsoring the bill in NH, Senator Sam Cataldo and Representative John Cebrowski, who spoke strongly and eloquently about why they support repeal. They also offered helpful advice for NH citizens reaching out to their legislators, emphasizing that they should write original, personalized and short emails or letters and avoid canned talking points.

Judge Murphy and Barbara Keshen
Judge Murphy and Barbara Keshen

NHCADP Board Chair Barbara Keshen presented The Governor Badger Award  to former NH Superior Court Judge Walter L. Murphy for his contribution to efforts to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire. Keshen lauded Murphy’s pragmatic decisions on the bench, and a courageous ruling finding the death penalty unconstitutional in a capital case. Murphy chaired the NH Death Penalty Study Commission in 2009-10. Though the Commission’s vote came out narrowly against repealing the death penalty in NH, Murphy said he thought those voting against were wrong and that they had willfully ignored the evidence and testimony of over 70 witnesses heard during the study.

Kirk Bloodsworth, First DNA Exoneree
Kirk Bloodsworth, 1st DNA Exoneree

The event featured keynote speaker Kirk Bloodsworth, Director of Advocacy of Witness to Innocence.  Kirk was sent to death row in March of 1985 for the murder and sexual assault of a nine year old girl. But he was innocent. DNA testing exonerated him — he was the first person to be freed based on DNA evidence — and Kirk was released from prison and pardoned in 1993. Kirk’s story of wrongful conviction, botched police work and evidence handling, and 9 years in prison had a profound impact on everyone in the room. A movie about Kirk’s journey, Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man, is due to be released in January. Watch Kirk’s UNH presentation here.

Mona Cadena of Equal Justice USA also spoke at the event. She shared her recent experience of supporting the successful repeal efforts in Maryland (signed into law this year), and her longer-term efforts in other states around the country. Mona and EJUSA have been a helpful resource to NHCADP as we have gotten our program off the ground over the past several months.

UNH Amnesty Student Group
UNH Amnesty International Student Group

We would like to extend our gratitude to Hannah Waller and the members of the Amnesty International UNH Student Group, and to Cynthia Gabriel Walsh of Amnesty International USA, for their leadership in making this event a success.