CONCORD — The state Senate takes up the death penalty repeal tomorrow.
“We think it will be very close,” said Arnie Alpert, spokesman for the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Two Southern New Hampshire senators are among those who repeal proponents believe are on the fence: Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, who represents Newton, and Russell Prescott, R-Kingston.
Stiles earlier this month said she has opposed repeal in the past and believes it is a deterrent to crime, but would listen to advocates.
“It’s fair to say a number of senators are giving deep thought to repeal,” Alpert said. “I would say if you are giving it deep thought, you are more likely to come down on the side of repeal.”
Some are wondering if this is the closest of votes, a tie.
“There is talk among the legislators that this may be a tie,” said Paul Lutz, a member of the repeal coalition from Derry.
A tie isn’t good enough for repeal proponents.
“A tie is not a majority,” Lutz said. “The status quo would prevail.”
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed repeal in a 3-2 committee vote.
Alpert said Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Jim Rausch, R-Derry, are believed to be leaning against repeal.
But he said Morse, the Senate president, and Republican leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, have taken the position this is a vote of conscience and won’t insist the GOP stand together for a partyline vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Proponents see Bradley as a no vote as well.
In the Judiciary Committee, Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, joined with Carson in voting against repeal.
Sens. Betty Lasky, D-Nashua, Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, voted for repeal.
“There’s a lot going on,” Alpert said of these days leading up to the vote. “People are being encouraged to contact their own senators.”
Lutz, a retired Derry police officer who is now a teacher, said he has called lawmakers.
“I’m doing what anybody else can do, contacting legislators to let them know there’s serious opposition to the death penalty,” he said.
Lutz, a Lutheran, said he is opposed on religious grounds.
“I don’t think the state or any other entity that’s human has the authority to take someone’s life,” he said.
Lutz, as a former police officer, also draws a line between enforcement and justice, while pointing out the incongruity of people saying they oppose violence, but embrace the death penalty.
“My opposition to the death penalty isn’t love and compassion for the person who did it,” Lutz said of murderers. “It’s not true justice.”
He sees the death penalty as society acting out anger and vengeance in a violent way.
“This really perpetuates the very thing we abhor,” Lutz said.
The Rev. Jonathan Hopkins, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord, who grew up in Derry and attended Triumphant Cross Lutheran Church in Salem, has testified at House and Senate hearings in favor of repeal.
“My hope is we will repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire,” Hopkins said. “I know it’s going to be a close vote.”
Hopkins said he is hoping senators on the fence realize the death penalty is not something the state needs.
“This is not the way to help our community be spiritually fit,” he said.
Hopkins is encouraging people to call senators and said he believes everyone can still make a difference.
He said he called his senator, Democrat Sylvia Larsen of Concord, even though he knows she supports repeal.
“The more our senators hear from us, the better,” Hopkins said.
Other repeal proponents are meeting with undecided senators to try to convince them to vote for repeal, Alpert said.
Adding meaning to the vote for some of the proponents is that it falls on Holy Thursday, the day in the Christian church calendar that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles.
Alpert said the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty had convened this weekend in Concord for its regular quarterly meeting.
“Other states, other countries are paying close attention to this vote,” Alpert said.
The repeal bill, House Bill 1170, passed in the House last month, 225-104.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she will sign the bill if the Legislature approves and sends it to her.
A University of New Hampshire poll conducted this winter showed a majority of residents supporting the death penalty, 58 percent to 29 percent.
But when given a choice between the death penalty or life in prison for someone convicted of murder, the split was 48 percent for death and 40 percent for life in prison.
Alpert said in the Senate Judiciary hearing 52 people spoke in favor of repeal, with just eight in opposition.
Those favoring repeal included the Catholic and Episcopalian bishops, representatives of the New Hampshire Council of Churches and the American Friends Service Committee, former state Supreme Court justice John Broderick and former state Attorney General Phil McLaughlin.
Opponents included Manchester police, state police, chiefs of police and the New Hampshire Police Association.