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After Clearing The N.H. House, Fight To Abolish Death Penalty Reaches State Senate

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The fight to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire reached the state Senate Tuesday morning after clearing the House earlier this month.

The measure would change the penalty for capital murder to life imprisonment. Richard Van Wickler, Superintendent of the Cheshire County jail says he's in support of the bill, as an official who's worked with the incarcerated for 26 years.

"Their punishment is a lack of liberty and a life of discomfort, but certainly not corporal punishment,” Van Wickler said. “We left that hundreds of years ago because we claim to be a humane society."

Other advocates for repeal, including former New Hampshire Superior Court Justice Arthur Brennan, questioned whether the state should be trusted with the power to enforce capital punishment.

"We all make mistakes,” Brennan said. “And as a sitting judge and even today in my retirement, I reflect on my decision-making and I ask myself, did I mistakenly believe a liar?"

Laura Briggs, widow of slain Manchester police officer Michael Briggs, spoke in opposition to the bill. Her husband's convicted killer is the only person on death row in the state.

"It's not about an eye for an eye or revenge,” Briggs said. “It's about protecting our society from evil people that do evil things."

The N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police is opposed to the bill.

Governor Sununu vetoed a death penalty repeal bill last session, but this year the measure cleared the House with a veto-proof majority.

The last execution in the state was in 1939.

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