CONCORD, N.H. – At a Thursday hearing on ramped up efforts to abolish capital punishment, family and friends of murder victims fell down on opposite sides of a New Hampshire bill to repeal the death penalty.
The Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment in 2000, but then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill.
Now Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty. The bill, if passed, would take effect Jan. 1.
At the hearing, so well attended it was moved to a larger room in the Statehouse, Cushing stressed that repeal would not affect the state’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison.
Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall was killed during a home invasion, spoke for repeal.
“I would not want anyone killed in her name,” said Hawthorn, whose daughter was shot to death in her Henniker home in 2010.
As a New Hampshire resident and taxpayer, Hawthorn said, “I hope I never dishonor my daughter by becoming an accomplice to state-sanctioned murder when murder is the thing that took my daughter from me.”
Robert Curley of Cambridge, Mass., whose 10-year-old son was kidnapped and killed in 1997, said he lobbied for the death penalty after his son’s murder, but became an opponent when the most sadistic of his son’s assailants was convicted of a lesser crime and received a lesser sentence than an accomplice who was just along for the ride.
“It doesn’t take long to figure out the system is a great system, but it’s not perfect and it’s not fair,” Curley said. “It’s been a long journey, and I’m glad to come up and support the repeal of the death penalty.”
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would support repeal if it doesn’t affect the case against Addison, who was sentenced to die for the 2006 shooting death of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.
“We have a person on death row that the system has made sure he’s where he should be,” Manchester Assistant Police Chief Nick Willard told members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Willard recalled that Briggs had been upset about a prosecutor’s decision not to seek the death penalty in the case against Gordon Perry. Perry was convicted of killing Epson Officer Jeremy Charron in 1997, when Briggs also was on the Epson police force. Briggs was scheduled to work Charron’s shift the night Charron was killed, but Charron returned home early from a trip and waived Briggs off.
Both liberals and conservatives are principle sponsors of the repeal bill and a list of lawmakers who endorse the measure include a smattering of Republicans.
Rep. Jeanine Notter, who sponsored a bill last year that expanded the death penalty to killings during home invasions, spoke against repeal. The Merrimack Republican said she was speaking for Kimberly Cates, whose “heinous murder” was among the reasons Notter chose to run for state representative.
Cates was hacked to death in her Mont Vernon home and her 11-year-old daughter maimed during a home invasion in 2009.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the six states that have repealed the death penalty in the last six years have done so prospectively, meaning those on death row at the time remained under sentences of death.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling in November upholding Addison’s convictions and sentence marked the first time in more than half a century the state’s highest court has reviewed a capital case.