New Hampshire May “Shut the Door” on the Death Penalty

January 13, 2014

NH-State-HouseBy John-Michael Dumais, Campaign Director, New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

– January 15, 2014 –

New Hampshire has not killed a death row inmate since 1939. But that does not make the death penalty any less significant in our state. We’ve been debating it for the past 25 years, having come close to repealing it twice before. We currently have one person on death row – a black man (Michael Addision) who shot and killed a white policeman in 2006 while being chased after committing a crime. During the time of his trial, another person was being tried for murder in New Hampshire. The other person was a wealthy white man (John “Jay” Brooks) who had, with great premeditation, hired others to kill his gardener. For his crime he received a sentence of life without parole.

Even though these are only two cases, the citizens of New Hampshire do not miss the obvious bias in our judicial system. We are not unaware that, as the last state in New England with the death penalty on our books, we have an historic opportunity to shut the door on this arcane, cruel punishment, and that doing so will be one more step to speed our country towards the inevitable goal of repudiating the state-sanctioned killing of its citizens.

When the first-ever death row DNA exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, visited our state this past October, his story never failed to deeply touch all who heard it. He put a face on the all-too-human failures of our criminal justice system, which routinely fails us by placing innocent persons on death row, and which has undoubtedly killed many innocents already.

nh-can-liveHere in New Hampshire we have been gearing up since last spring for the effort to end the death penalty, which is now underway in our legislature. With 1,400 members in our Coalition, citizen-led repeal groups have formed in several areas to educate their communities through films and discussion panels. We have been calling their lawmakers and speaking with one voice that “New Hampshire Can Live Without the Death Penalty.”

We’re fortunate to have the likes of Renny Cushing working closely with us in our state. His father was killed in 1988, yet his core values are unshaken when he says, “If we let those who kill turn us to killers, then violence and evil trumps and we are much the worse for it.” Renny has since worked tirelessly as a repeal activist, the head of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, and as a state representative. Never judgmental, Renny understands that it can take a long time for some people to come around to supporting repeal. He should know, he has been working to persuade many of them for a quarter century – and many are beginning to come around.

Our 2014 legislative session began this past week. We are already working with a strong bipartisan corps of representatives and senators who are committed to ending the death penalty. Our first round of hearings, in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, are scheduled for January 16th. Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, will be joining us to testify, and Richard Dieter from the Death Penalty Information Center will also be flying in to share his national and international perspective. We have our work cut out for us, but in the end we feel that New Hampshire lawmakers will seize the moment and vote to bring the death penalty to an end in our state. We invite you to learn more about our ongoing activities. Visit our website today.

If you would like to sign up to join us for our January 16 hearings, please click here.

This article first appeared in the CMN January 2014 Newsletter.