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Repeal Campaign Makes Huge Strides
but Falls 1 Senator Short

By Arnie Alpert
Program Director, AFSC-NH
June 20, 2014

Legislation to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty attracted tremendous political support and won stunning victories in the House of Representatives this year.  But it stalled in the State Senate, which voted 12 to 12 on April 17.

RepCushing&signThat means New Hampshire will end the year as it began, with one man in prison and sentenced to be put to death by the state, and with a rarely used capital murder statute still on the books.  As Representative Renny Cushing quipped, “a tie goes to the executioner.”  But the state’s political reality has gone through what Kevin Landrigan, the Nashua Telegraph’s long-time State House reporter, called “a seismic shift in legislative attitude from only a year ago.”

With a bulked up staff of skilled organizers supported by donations and foundation grants, the  New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty mounted a multifaceted campaign involving work with legislative allies, grassroots outreach, skilled use of the news media, mobilization of citizens for hearings and “days of action,” plus decentralized vigils and marches. Talks by national leaders including Sister Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking, and Kirk Bloodsworth, who was freed from death row based on DNA evidence that cleared him of responsibility for a Maryland murder, enabled the Coalition to win new supporters and invigorate the old ones for action.

Continue reading here or download PDF here.

Death Penalty Issues at a Glance

More than 140 individuals have been freed from death row since 1973 because they were proven to be innocent. Problems have run the gamut from cooked and withheld evidence to coerced confessions and self-serving snitches. Public lawyers often have little experience and cannot be expected to give the best defense. Even if we execute someone we are sure is guilty, keeping the death penalty guarantees that innocent people, including those with impaired mental capacity – even though it is unconstitutional – will continue to be killed. Human biases and mistakes are unavoidable, but an execution is one mistake that can never be taken back. More…
Justice is supposed to be blind, but the application of the death penalty in the US is anything but. If you are wealthy, you can afford the best lawyers and are likely to get a lesser sentence, even for murder. If you cannot afford a lawyer or are a member of a racial minority, you are more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime. Where you live also plays a big role in whether a person gets the death penalty: the majority of death penalty cases since 1976 have come from just 2% of US counties — with 85% of US counties executing no one during that entire time. This is the very definition of unequal treatment under the law and for this, together with the charge of cruel and unusual punishment and the failure of due process, the death penalty should be considered unconstitutional. More…
Because of the much higher standards of evidence and due process that capital cases require, the costs for prosecuting and public defending in a death penalty trial are far higher than cases involving first degree murder and a maximum sentence of life without parole — even when you count the cost of imprisonment. Death penalty trials take longer, require more jurors to be interviewed, necessitate more costly security, and that’s all before years and years of appeals at the state and finally the federal level. In the case of Michael Addison, currently the only death row inmate in our state, NH taxpayers have already spent over 5 million dollars. As a comparison, 40 years in prison costs $1.4 million. Money not spent on the death penalty could go to programs like victim counseling, crime prevention and substance abuse treatment. More…
Dozens of studies – including a meta-study by the National Research Council — have concluded that the evidence does not support the claim that the death penalty deters violent crime. People who kill in the heat of passion or to satisfy a drug craving certainly are unlikely to stop first to think about consequences. Even those who meticulously plan out their crimes never believe they will get caught. The simple truth is, the death penalty does not make us safer. When the deterrence argument fall away, what are we left with as a reason for maintaining the death penalty? Some people like to quote the Bible and its “eye for an eye” justification but the original code was meant to limit retribution. As understandable as our pain is over the horror of murder, we cannot allow our ultimate decisions to be governed by a need for retribution.  A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. The US is the only western industrialized nation to engage in this punishment. More…
While some murder victim family members support the death penalty as payment for the murderer’s crime, many do not. Those who have had to live through years of appeals (13 years, on average) often find that the ordeal continues to dredge up the pain and misery of the original loss. And even when the death penalty has been carried out, many family members have also found that it offered no final sense of relief or healing. Moreover, the extraordinary sums spent on trials and years of appeals could be better put to use for victim services such as grief counseling, legal advocacy and burial costs, for or solving cold cases. In NH, there are over 120 outstanding unsolved murders. Don’t these families deserve justice too? More…
When as a society we respond to the act of murder with a state-sanctioned ritual execution, we are only perpetuating the trauma that every killing causes to our psyches and souls. In particular, those who are forced to carry out these executions — prison wardens, guards, doctors, nurses -– have found that taking part in these unspeakable acts haunts them for years. Some have even committed suicide as a result. The families of those who are executed suffer again as well. They have done nothing wrong, but as parents, spouses, children and extended family they have to live not only with the shame, but with the pain of losing of a person they loved and cared about. Killing those who kill to show that killing is wrong offers no hope of rehabilitation, restoration, or redemption. It only prolongs the cycle of violence and prevents us from imagining more humane possibilities. More…


About the Bill

HB 1170 is a bi-partisan bill for repealing the death penalty in NH. Details:

  • HB 1170 eliminates the death penalty from all state statutes.
  • Those crimes which currently can be classified as “capital murder” will still be classified as “first degree murder,” the mandatory penalty for which is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • It does not affect anyone currently on death row in NH.

HB 1170 was tabled in the Senate on 4/17. SB202 replaced it.

Conservative Voices

A Richard Viguerie number of conservatives and libertarians have been voicing their opposition to the death penalty, citing it as a costly, inefficient and unjust government-run program. Among them are: Richard Viguerie, chairman of; Ron Paul, former US House of Representatives; Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist; Ken Starr, former US Solicitor General; and many others.
———————————————————————– Download the US Constitution Project’s “Statements from Unlikely Allies on the Death Penalty.” (More resources here.)

Updated! NH Activist in Texas Pt. 2
GarzaSince I wrote “Fighting for Life, From Texas Death Row,” much has happened to the inmate I was working with, Robert Will, and myself. Following my successful efforts to find him experienced pro bono lawyers who worked with his Texas court-appointed attorney, Rob’s case was remanded from the federal courts to the Texas state court.  This is significant as in Texas, as once you have reached the federal level, there is nowhere to go but to the Supreme Court for relief.  Surprisingly, in February 2014, the Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Rob based on both actual innocence… More…