CONCORD — With a state Supreme Court ruling on the appeal of the state’s only death row inmate expected soon, a coalition against the death penalty launched its campaign yesterday to end capital punishment next year.
Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty.
“I think New Hampshire has come to the conclusion that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty,” Cushing said during a press conference by the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in the Legislative Office Building lobby, which was packed with supporters.
Walter Murphy, former chief judge of the New Hampshire Superior Court, said the state is touted as the safest in the country.
“Does anyone really think the death penalty is the reason for that when the death penalty hasn’t be utilized since 1939?” he said.
Michael Addison — convicted of killing a Manchester police officer in 2006 — is the only person on death row. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in Addison’s case 11 months ago, including challenges to the constitutionality of the death penalty and whether it was unfairly applied to Addison — a black man whose victim was white.
Murphy noted that 18 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment in the last 40 years. He led the commission that voted, 12-10, in 2010 to retain the death penalty after an exhaustive study.
The Legislature expanded the death penalty to include murders committed during a home invasion after a 2009 Mont Vernon machete attack left Kimberly Cates dead and her 10-year-old daughter maimed.
Senate President Chuck Morse said yesterday he is skeptical of the need to abolish the death penalty.
“Our statute is narrowly tailored and used sparingly, evidenced by the fact that the state has not used the penalty in over 70 years and currently has only one inmate, the convicted killer of a police officer, on death row,” Morse said. “The possibility of the death penalty provides a deterrent against the most heinous crimes.”
Former Marlborough Police Chief Raymond Dodge said it’s time to end “this imperfect and costly process.”
“There is no way to raise a wrongly convicted and executed person from the grave,” Raymond said.
He added that those on death row in other states who were exonerated highlight cases tainted by false eyewitness identifications, shoddy forensic work, bad lawyering and coerced confessions.
The bishops of the state’s Catholic and Episcopal dioceses — Peter Libasci and A. Robert Hirschfeld — also spoke in support of repeal. Libasci said the death penalty “only validates the taking of human life.”
Barbara Keshen, who heads the coalition, said the death penalty is a “cruel joke” on the families of murder victims, because it keeps them involved in the criminal justice system for years and years.
The Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2000, but then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she supports repeal, but only if it wouldn’t apply to Addison’s sentence. Cushing’s bill — if passed — would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.