N.H. Death Penalty Repeal Advocates Aim To Overcome Sununu’s Promised Veto

Feb 19, 2019

Advocates for abolishing New Hampshire's death penalty made their presence known in the halls of the State House on Tuesday.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Hampshire is again debating whether to repeal its death penalty. Dozens of people spoke in favor of the change at a lengthy legislative hearing Tuesday.

The Granite State’s is the only death penalty left in New England.

But the state has no execution chamber for its lone death row inmate: Michael Addison, convicted in 2008 of shooting Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.

So many people signed up to testify at Tuesday’s hearing that it was moved into the state House of Representatives' main hall. Most were in favor of repeal, but a handful of lawmakers – including former U.S. Senator and state attorney general Kelly Ayotte – spoke against it.

They argue it would commute Addison’s death sentence to life imprisonment without parole, though it’s not clear from the text of the bill if or how that would happen.

If it does, said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican who supports the death penalty: “Okay, he’s in jail for the rest of his life. … That officer’s death will never be, you know, taken care of.”

A church leader speaks against the New Hampshire's death penalty at a legislative committee hearing Tuesday
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Most who testified at the hearing want the repeal to pass. They wore buttons that said “not in my name,” and argued the death penalty doesn’t deter crime and costs too much.

"In thinking about the state’s power to kill, we should consider, one, whether we really believe that the state should have the power at all, and two, whether we believe that the government can be trusted to kill without error,” said retired Superior Court judge Art Brennan. “For me, the answer to both questions is no."

Other speakers included family members of murder victims who said capital punishment wouldn’t benefit them – as well as faith leaders, like Pastor Jon Hopkins of Concord.

"We have the death penalty not because it prevents crimes, but so we can get revenge. From a spiritual standpoint, revenge is harmful,” he said. “It does not help us heal or move on; instead it leaves us cold and lost."

State legislators have voted several times to repeal New Hampshire's death penalty. But governors Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Sununu vetoed the repeals that made it to their desk.

Sununu promised to do the same if the bill passes this year. It would need a wide margin of support—two-thirds of members present in each the House and the Senate—to override that veto.