Editorial: The death penalty isn’t the answer

Originally published in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

The capital murder case of Michael Addison, 33, the man convicted of the 2006 shooting death of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, has brought New Hampshire’s death penalty law to the forefront of a wider national issue. Ray Dodge of Jaffrey, former Peterborough officer and Marlborough police chief, has spoken out against the death penalty recently, bringing his concerns all the way to the State House.

Dodge’s position is made all the more compelling because of his strong ties to law enforcement, which has traditionally backed capital punishment in the killings of police officers. Dodge is a proponent of a bill legislators will vote on in January that would repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire. But it wouldn’t affect Addison’s case. The N.H. Supreme Court has upheld Addisons’ capital conviction, and is now reviewing his death sentence. If it too is upheld, Addison will be the first person executed in the state in almost 75 years.

This is an emotionally charged and sensitive subject from all perspectives. Some, an officer perhaps, might argue that killing Addison is just punishment for taking the life of a member of law enforcement, someone who puts his/her life on the line every day. Briggs was by all accounts an outstanding member of society. He was awarded the Congressional Law Enforcement Award in 2005, after having rescued residents from a burning building in 2004. They fear that taking the death penalty off the table will make killing police officers all too common, that there are no other deterrents to take the death penalty’s place. They also say saving Addison would be a slap in the face, not only to every officer in the country, but also to Briggs’ loved ones.

But from Dodge’s perspective, as well as ours, the answers are not so simple. This issue goes far deeper than the battles between justice and compassion. It’s also about a criminal justice system that nationally has far too often proven to be wrong in capital cases. Just look at recent history in Illinois, which in 2011 officially abolished its death penalty after a decade-long moratorium that saw clemency granted to all its death row inmates because of concerns about its process.

And there’s the all-too-often unspoken question of a government’s proper role. We find it hypocritical that the states with the deepest ties to the death penalty are also the one who most loudly call for smaller government. If government is not to be trusted to administer basic programs, how can it be given the power to execute?

We applaud Dodge for his political convictions, and we urge legislators to repeal the state’s death penalty law.

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