Monthly Archives: November 2013

KSC Symposium Panelists Offer Many Reasons to Abolish the Death Penalty

On November 7, 2013, Monadnock Citizens Concerned About the Death Penalty hosted a symposium session on Abolishing the Death Penalty in New Hampshire as part of Keene State College’s Eighth Biennial Symposium: Finding Your Place in the Evolving Commons. A panel of four, moderated by MCCADP member and KSC Professor Ockle Johnson, discussed the death penalty, presented reasons for its abolition, and responded to questions from the audience.

Ken Arnold's piece "Hang 'Em!"
Ken Arnold’s piece “Hang ‘Em!”

Before beginning the panel discussion, local artist Ken Arnold’s piece “Hang ‘Em!” was presented. His work represents the total number of death penalty executions in 2010 with nooses of different colors representing the ethnicity of those executed: 27 white nooses, 13 black nooses, and 4 brown nooses. Arnold shared a few remarks about his twine sculpture and how the work of advocates like members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty have contributed to a decline in executions in subsequent years, though there is still much work to be done.

Peter Stevenson
Peter Stevenson

Peter Stevenson, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Keene State College, spoke about four criteria that we as a society want our punishment to accomplish and how well the death penalty meets those goals.

Rehabilitation: There are no rehabilitative effects to using the death penalty. Stevenson added, “If you offered programming and services to inmates on death row, I think a lot of taxpayers would say that’s just a waste of resources for someone who we’re about ready to execute.”

Incapacitation: He argued that when it comes to incapacitation, the death penalty is very effective at removing an offender from society but isn’t at all cost effective. So far the State of New Hampshire has spent $5 million and counting on the Addison case, enough to imprison him for over 100 years. Life imprisonment without parole would be far more cost effective at incapacitation at $35,000 per year.

Deterrence: Stevenson spoke at length about deterrence and how it is often used as justification for the death penalty, especially by law enforcement. He highlighted two problems with the deterrence argument. First, deterrence is difficult to measure and as a result there are just as many studies that show no deterrence effect as there are studies that show only a slight increase in deterrence. Second, there is a societal assumption that offenders are rational actors who weigh the risk of capital punishment before acting, when in reality this just isn’t the case.

“To think that before an offender lashes back at a police officer, fires their gun,” Stephenson remarked, “that they’re going to go through this calculation through their head I think is quite misguided. We don’t always act that rationally.”

Retribution: What Stevenson saw at the heart of death penalty support was retribution, particularly in the name of slain police officers. While it may be effective retribution in the ‘eye for an eye’ sense, the scarcity and selectiveness of New Hampshire’s application of the death penalty doesn’t make sense.

“I really don’t think this is an effective punishment,” Stevenson concluded. “It doesn’t do really anything that we want it to do. Why use it?”

Rev. Mark Jenkins
Rev. Mark Jenkins

Rev. Mark Jenkins, Rector at St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, shared the story of Marietta Jaeger, whose daughter Susie was kidnapped and murdered in 1973 at the age of seven. Marietta went on to help organize Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing. Her belief in forgiveness during her journey as a murder victim family member led her to reject retribution through the death penalty. Rev. Jenkins shared a quote from Marietta’s personal story:

“Loved ones, wrenched from our lives by violent crime, deserve more beautiful, noble and honorable memorials than pre-meditated, state-sanctioned killings. The death penalty only creates more victims and more grieving families. By becoming that which we deplore — people who kill people — we insult the sacred memory of all our precious victims. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level bloodthirsty revenge. My own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty, that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me. Capital punishment degrades, dehumanizes and debilitates us as a human society.”

“That’s what I as a follower of Jesus believe that I have been told to do,” Rev. Jenkins added, “Love your enemies, Jesus said. Do good to those who hate you.”

He continued by telling the history of the Episcopal church’s evolution on the death penalty. While the Episcopal church has opposed the death penalty since 1958, they have not always been “captive to our better angels,” as Rev. Jenkins described. For many centuries the church was actively engaged in imposing the death penalty even as they followed of a man who himself was executed by the state for crime.

“We seemed to have lost sight of that,” he said. “Fortunately today many churches and other religions have found themselves coming to a renewed understanding of the real-world implications of our obligation to respect all human life and to always stand ready to forgive even the most heinous of actions.”

Rev. Jenkins concluded by sharing reasons to oppose the death penalty from a religious and moral perspective: concern for the sacredness of all life, inequities in the system, fallibility of our justice system, lack of evidence to support deterrence, and a subtext of retribution that is unacceptable in a civilized society.

“We talk about deterrence,” he added. “What we want is vengeance. He who seeks revenge digs two graves.”

Ray Dodge
Ray Dodge

Ray Dodge, a retired local police chief, spoke of his personal evolution on the death penalty. While he started his career believing in the deterrence effect of the death penalty, as he learned and experienced more he came to see that imperfections in our system and how much it is subject to judgment calls lead to injustice in how the death penalty is applied. Dodge described the tremendous amount of public and political pressure on those who make those judgment calls to solve a murder “in a half hour with two commercial breaks.”

He opposes the death penalty from a moral and spiritual perspective, citing his belief as a Unitarian in respect for all life. As a former police chief he doesn’t believe that someone’s life should depend on what is ultimately an imperfect decision made by another person. If a mistake is made and a case is pushed through the system, innocent people can be and have been executed. He also stated his concerns about the cost of the death penalty and lack of deterrence.

“I think when you look at the criminal justice system, as good as it is,” Dodge finished, “it’s good because when mistakes are made we can correct those mistakes. The death penalty destroys that safety net.”

Richard Guerriero
Richard Guerriero

Richard Guerriero, a former public defender in murder and death penalty cases, offered examples from his experience, including the Addison case and a Louisiana case in which a black defendant faced an all white jury. His client was convicted and only through legal maneuvering was he spared from the death penalty. Guerriero has also seen the other side of murder as a family member and friend of murder victims.

He continued with an overview of how the justice system handles murder and death penalty cases. Guerriero described the complexities of mitigating and aggravating factors and why it is so difficult for many lawyers to understand them and how the system works.

One of the problems that Guerriero identified with how the system works is that jurors are not required to make a decision based on aggravating factors outweighing mitigating factors. The jury can weigh them however they want as long as they follow the rules set by the court. There’s no real test for a reasonable doubt.

Another problem with the system is that jurors are intentionally selected to exclude anyone who opposes or could not consider the death penalty. A third problem is a lack of uniformity not only in how the death penalty is sought and applied from state to state but also in resources, funding, and support of counsel.

The event wrapped up with questions from the audience and an update on the N.H. Supreme Court decision on the Addison case from Richard Guerriero.

NH clergy call for abolishing state’s death penalty

By PAT GROSSMITH, New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD, November 12, 2013 – New Hampshire church leaders have issued a call to abolish the death penalty and for clergy to discuss the issue with their congregations.

Catholic Bishop Libasci & Episcopal Bishop Hirschfeld

Bishop James Hazelwood of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfield of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, and the Rev. Gary Schulte, conference minister of the N.H. Conference of the United Church of Christ, are encouraging their clergy to discuss their objections to the death penalty during the weekend of Nov. 23-24.

Bishop Hirschfield called on clergy statewide to participate in a “Preach-In” on the death penalty Nov. 24, coinciding with the Feast of Christ the King Sunday, when the lectionary readings focus on Jesus’s own execution.

“When I was informed that our elected representatives would be considering a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire, it seemed fitting to call on church leaders to urge our people to reflect on this legislation through the lens of Scripture and the tradition of Christian teaching,” said Bishop Hirschfield. “Christ the King Sunday, which falls this year on Nov. 24, reminds Christians of the sovereignty of God in all aspects of our lives and society. The execution and resurrection of Jesus remind us of the futility of acts of violence, hatred, retribution and fear as means to establish a just and peaceful society.

Our churches, for too long divided, have a special opportunity this year to reflect and pray together about how Christian teaching leads us to a society that’s closer to the reign of God. It is for this reason that the leaders of so many denominations are joining in this effort,” he said.

Bishop Libasci said the Feast of Christ the King is an opportunity for Catholics and other Christians to support victims of crime and their families, while remembering that those who commit crimes are capable of redemption – of coming to know Jesus as we see in the story of Christ’s own execution.

“The death penalty neither deters others, nor brings this perpetrator to understanding, but instead, in the worst of ironies, publicly validates the very act of taking a human life,” he said.

Bishop Hazelwood said the death penalty has proven to be an ineffective tool for crime deterrence. “In all likelihood it has been applied to persons who later could have been proven innocent and it does not stand the test of the teachings of Jesus. There is no logical, practical or spiritual reason to continue the death penalty in New Hampshire,” he said.

The Rev. Gary Schulte said in the Christian tradition we are taught by Jesus that “an eye for an eye” and a “tooth for tooth” – or life for a life – is not the ethical standard by which we should live our lives.

“I also believe this applies to our collective responsibility as citizens of the state of New Hampshire. While we have a responsibility to protect our citizens, vengeance and state-sponsored violence are not the way we make our society safer for all,” he said.

This effort is a religious and educational response to bipartisan legislation recently filed in the New Hampshire House to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty. The New Hampshire Council of Churches is an organizational member of the N.H. Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which is spearheading the repeal campaign.

Last week, the Supreme Court’s upheld the state’s death penalty in the case of Michael Addison, convicted of capital murder in the 2006 shooting death of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Addison, 33, a former Boston gang member, is the only person on death row in New Hampshire.

His appeal, on the legal issue of proportionality, is still pending before the Supreme Court. 

Link to original article

More information on the November 24 Preach-In