Monthly Archives: March 2019

Senate Hearing Report

On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from 32 people on HB 455. A majority of those present, 28 in all, testified in favor of repeal.

photo credit: Scott Langley,

Among those testifying for the bill were: Arthur Brennan, former NH Superior Court Justice; Greg Smith, former NH Attorney General; Richard O’Leary, former Deputy Chief of Manchester Police Dept.; Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop of the NH Episcopal Diocese; Meredith Cook, Vice Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese; and Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated from death row using DNA evidence. They were joined by numerous murder victim family members, other clergy members, and social and civic leaders.

Former NH Attorney General Greg Smith claimed the death penalty does not protect society better than life in prison, and that criminals are arbitrarily picked out for execution by people in the criminal justice system who are, however well intentioned, subject to implicit bias. Watch video here.

Former Superior Court Judge John M. Lewis questioned the reasoning that the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous murders, and spoke to his concern for human error and to the evolving standards of law and decency in our society. Watch video here.

The list below represents a small selection of the 25 videos from the Judiciary hearing available in this Youtube playlist:


Former NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte reprised her earlier House hearing appearance, giving a full-throated argument against repeal, repeating her concern that NH’s sole death row prisoner would be executed. She was joined in her opposition by Laura Briggs, wife of slain Manchester police officer Michael Briggs, along with a couple of representatives of police associations.

Our gratitude goes out to all those who came to testify, and to those holding signs and attending to witness and add their gravitas to the event.

HB 455 is expected to come to the Senate floor for a vote sometime in April, where it is expected to pass. Gov. Sununu has continued to indicate his opposition to the bill, saying he will veto it as he did with last year’s repeal bill, SB 593. If that happens, an override effort will likely take place sometime this spring.

In the meantime, please continue to write to newspapers and also to your Senator if you have not yet done so. Thank you.

photos by Arnie Alpert
photo credit: Scott Langley,


House passes repeal by 3-to-1 margin


On March 7, 2019, the NH House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill to repeal the death penalty by a margin of 279-88. (Watch the House videostream of the proceedings here – the HB 455 segment starts at the 9:48 mark).
HB 455 would replace the sentence of death with life in prison without parole and would only apply to future capital cases.
Among those speaking in favor of the bill were Representatives David Welch (R), David Danielson (R), Safiya Wazir (D), Renny Cushing (D) (listen to his speech here), Frank Kotowski (R) and Beth Rodd (D). Supporters spoke about: being pro-life; that the death penalty causes more harm to victims’ families; that the death penalty is expensive, costing over $5 million to date for a single capital case; that it does not achieve the aims of the criminal justice system, which is to rehabilitate; and that the death penalty can kill innocent people with 164 people having been exonerated from death row in the US since 1972.
Speaking against the bill were Representatives Jeanine Notter, Kurt Wuelper, Al Badasaro, and Werner Horn. They cited the need to retain the death penalty due to the heinous nature of some murders, and due to conceptions of justice.
Rep. Renny Cushing, the prime sponsor of the bill, spoke about the murder of his father and brother-in-law. He shared how the one thing victim family members want is to return the life of the loved one, and that the death penalty cannot make that happen and does not aid in the healing process. (Listen to his speech here.)
On February 20, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 11-6 in favor of an Out to Pass motion on the bill. In the committee’s public hearing on the bill the previous day, 95 of the 100 people who rose to speak testified in favor of repealing the death penalty. These included murder victim family members, members of the clergy from many different faiths, former judges and veterans of law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, and many ordinary citizens. (Videos of many of the witnesses can be viewed here.)
Barbara Keshen, former Assistant Attorney General and chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said of today’s vote, “Today, the House of Representatives voted as it has in numerous previous legislative sessions, stating unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.”
When asked about the prospects for the bill in the Senate, Keshen said, “We have the votes to pass the bill and we’re confident we can override a veto, should the governor choose to ignore the mandate of the legislature again.”
Last June, Gov. Sununu vetoed a similar bill, SB 593, which had passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan majorities. To override a veto requires two-thirds of those present and voting in each legislative chamber.  If all House members were present, that would require 267 votes to override.