A combination of shock and joy passed over the faces of the overflow crowd of people gathered in the Senate gallery on May 30 after Senate President Donna Soucy announced the 16-8 vote overriding the gubernatorial veto of HB 455 and finally ending the death penalty in New Hampshire. Representative Renny Cushing and his daughters Elizabeth and Grace had front row seats in the gallery to watch the debate and vote. For Renny, this caps off 22 years of repeal efforts in the New Hampshire House.
The Senate recessed for a time and all poured out into the halls of the State House to congratulate each other. Sitting senators Donna Soucy, Martha Hennessey, Harold French and others were joined by their former colleagues Bette Lasky, Amanda Merrill, and Bob Clegg, and Representatives Linda Harriott-Gathright, Timothy Horrigan, Chris Balch, along with former Reps Eileen Ehlers, Richard O’Leary and Mindi Messmer, and many others.
Among the crowd were Elizabeth Zitrin of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Devon Chaffee and Jeanne Hruska of ACLU-NH, Arnie Alpert of AFSC-NH, Meredith Cook of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, Rev. Jason Wells of the NH Council of Churches, Mona Cadena of EJUSA, Cynthia Gabriel Walsh of Amnesty International USA, and Louise Spencer of Kent Street Coalition. Barbara Keshen, Marti Hunt, Ann Wright, and other NHCADP Board members, together with a crowd of Coalition members, celebrated in their midst. Weaving through the friendly chaos was a gaggle of reporters, snapping photos and lining up for impromptu interviews. Cell phones chimed incessantly as congratulations poured in from all over the country. Hugs were mandatory if insufficient to express the emotion of the moment.
The crowd moved to the State House steps where Renny, Barbara, Arnie and others made short statements and thanked key activists who helped to make the day a reality. A lunch reception followed in the Upham Walker House across the street, filled with happy faces and congratulations all around. Media interviews continued into the early afternoon while everyone struggled to accommodate this new bit of information: the long push to end capital punishment in New Hampshire had just been victorious. A few asked about what might be next, but most simply took the opportunity to savor the moment. One post-repeal event, however, has been announced: a celebration on Saturday June 22. Please save the date and look for details coming soon.
Representative Renny Cushing released this statement after the vote:
The Senate vote today to finally abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire is a remarkable moment in our state’s history. Having been a part of this movement for the past 20 years, the outcome today to shift the narrative on criminal justice from violent punishment to humane treatment is overwhelmingly heartwarming for me.
I know firsthand that the pain and trauma from losing a loved one to violent crime will never dissipate. Today’s vote will ensure that this cycle of pain, which only creates more and more victims in its wake, will no longer be perpetuated by our state government. Abolishing capital punishment ensures that our state will never again eternalize the force of violence and will instead lead with powerful humanity.
The Senate President’s office released this statement.
There has been a plethora of press coverage of this event, statewide and nationally. Here is a selection:
- Concord Monitor Editorial: At last, an end to the death penalty
- In Depth NH: Death Penalty repealed in NH (see also video here)
- WMUR (video): NH death penalty officially repealed
- WMUR (video): ABC’s Dan Abrams weighs in on NH’s death penalty abolition
- NH Patch: NH has repealed the death penalty
- Catholic Record: New Hampshire Catholic officials laud state’s death penalty ban
- Mother Jones: NH defies Republican governor, repeals death penalty
- Slate.com: New Hampshire Legislature Overrides Veto, Abolishes Death Penalty
- Italy: Sant’Egidio rejoice for the abolition of the death penalty in New Hampshire
- Concord Monitor: Arnie Alpert recounts Renny Cushing’s death penalty repeal activities 22 years ago and today
- In Depth NH: Arnie Alpert Helped Make Death Penalty ‘History’
- AFSC-NH Blog: Arnie Alpert’s Retrospective on NH repeal efforts
- Outside the Beltway: NH Repeals Death Penalty
- State House Watch Podcast: Arnie Alpert and Louise Spencer interview Rep. Renny Cushing about the repeal of the death penalty (interview segment begins at 18:45 mark)
Also, here are videos of Channel 10 Boston doing interviews, captured by Arnie Alpert:
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The NH Coalition is deeply grateful for all the groups and individuals who supported us over these many years, in-state, nationally, and internationally. We hope that those who are continuing to work to repeal the death penalty in other states will be inspired by our achievement to keep the faith and strive onward.
In the coming weeks, the Coalition will be gearing down from its multi-year efforts, but plans to maintain a presence in the state in order to respond to any effort to reinstate the death penalty.
The Board of the Coalition would like to thank all of our members for sticking with us over the course of this long campaign. We could not have done this without you writing letters, making calls, holding signs, handing out leaflets, attending and hosting events, transporting out-of-state guests, sending money, praying, and in many other ways demonstrating your compassionate activism. You answered the call. This victory belongs to all of us.
PRESS RELEASE 5.30.19
Today’s 16-8 Senate vote provided the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of HB 455.
“We are deeply grateful to the bipartisan group of senators who stood firm and again cast their vote to end capital punishment in our state. Like the majority of their House colleagues, they agreed that capital punishment is inhumane, unfair, error prone, and costly,” said Barbara Keshen, Chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP) and a former NH Assistant Attorney General.
Following last week’s 247-123 successful override vote in the NH House, the Senate action served to officially override the gubernatorial veto and end the practice of state-sanctioned executions in New Hampshire. New Hampshire now becomes the 21st state to end capital punishment, joining all other New England states.
HB 455 replaces death sentences in future capital cases with the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill does not change the sentence for Michael Addison, the sole individual currently on death row in New Hampshire.
In April, the NH Senate voted 17-6 to pass HB 455. Today’s vote saw only the defection of District 1 Senator David Starr.
Speaking in favor of the override were Republican Senators Harold French and Bob Giuda, and Democrat Senator Melanie Levesque.
Arnie Alpert, co-director of the American Friends Service Committee and longtime NHCADP board member who has tracked the death penalty in New Hampshire since the 1980s, commented after the vote, “Abolition of the death penalty represents a milestone for our state and beyond, demonstrating our capacity to evolve towards more fairness and less violence. Today’s vote is a testimony to the persistence of thousands of citizens over the past two decades who have been united in the belief that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.”
Representative Renny Cushing, who has been spearheading death penalty repeal efforts in the NH House since 1997, reflected after the vote, “Today, I’m proud that the New Hampshire Legislature fulfilled the legacy of Governor William Badger, who in 1834 initiated the first movement to end capital punishment in our state. I’d like to acknowledge all of my Republican and Democratic colleagues who worked hard to see this day come to pass.” Representative Cushing, who lost a father and brother-in-law to murder, is the founder of Murder Victim Families for Human Rights.The successful repeal follows previous efforts by abolitionists in: 2018 (bill was vetoed by Gov. Sununu); 2016 and 2014 (bill failed in Senate by one vote each time); 2009 (study commission was formed); and 2000 (bill was vetoed by Gov. Shaheen).
From the first recorded execution in 1739 to the last one in 1939, 22 individuals have been hanged by the state of New Hampshire. At least one, Ruth Blay, is now recognized as having been the victim of a wrongful execution in 1768 after being convicted of concealing the body of her stillborn illegitimate child and refusing to reveal the identity of the father.
“We hope that what we have accomplished here in New Hampshire will add momentum to efforts across our country to end capital punishment,” said Barbara Keshen, NHCADP Chair, adding, “We look forward to the United States joining the ever-growing community of nations who have abolished the death penalty and are working to create a less violent world.”
In celebration of New Hampshire’s achievement, Barbara Keshen said that members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty would be lighting up the Colosseum in Rome this coming November 30th.