Senate passes death penalty repeal by veto-proof margin

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Death penalty opponents gathered outside the State House before the historic vote Thursday. Photo/Paula Tracy

CONCORD, NH – It was an emotional and historic moment at the State House Thursday as the Senate followed the House of Representatives in voting to kill the death penalty by a margin that could be difficult for the governor to overcome with his promised veto.

On a bipartisan vote, the Senate voted 17-6 to do away with the state’s limited law, which allows for the death penalty in cases where police officers are killed in the line of duty and other circumstances.

Supporters of repealing the law needed only 16 votes to override a promised veto. They got 17. This follows a March 7 vote by the House, which voted 279-88 in favor of repeal. House Bill 455 now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Officer Michael Briggs

It may also mean that Michael Addison, who sits on death row for the killing of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, could be able to petition for a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

Opposing repeal were Senators Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, James Gray, R-Rochester, Sharon Carson R-Londonderry, Kevin Cavanaugh D-Manchester, Regina Birdsell R-Hampstead, and Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, a supporter of the death penalty, was not present.

Voting to support repeal of the death penalty included Republicans Sen. David Starr of Franconia and Sen. Bob Giuda of Warren.

Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, said state-sanctioned killing is cruel and wrong.

Hennessey said it has no deterrent effect.

“Murderers don’t think twice,” Hennessey said. “The death penalty protects society no better than sentencing them to life.”

She also added that individuals who make up our law enforcement “are human beings that all make mistakes.”

Hennessey mentioned meeting a woman accused of killing her own baby and was put on death row. Before the sentence was carried out, authorities found the baby died of sudden infant death syndrome.

“The government cannot be trusted to kill without error,” Hennessey said.

She added the financial costs cannot be understated and that generally the cost to put someone to death is four to five times the cost of life in prison without parole.

“It is time to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire,” Hennessey said. “Now is the time.”

Death row inmate Michael Addison, convicted of killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, could be able to petition for a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

But Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the one reason we are dealing with this now is because of the case of Michael Addison, the first person to be on death row in New Hampshire for many years.

The widow of Officer Briggs has testified in support of the death penalty.

“We are talking about the administration of justice,” Carson said. “We are all entitled to our own religious beliefs, but we are talking about justice.”

She said the state has an appeals process “to make sure we got it right. There is a long, involved and yes expensive appeals process.

“Money shouldn’t be involved,” Carson said. “Doesn’t that victim deserve that?”

She said the vast majority of people of New Hampshire support the death penalty.

“We have a very stringent law, very rarely used – once in almost 100 years and the day this passes and is signed into law, Mr. Addison’s conviction will be converted into life in prison…Mr. Addison will argue equal protection and his sentence will be commuted.

“Please talk to Mrs. Briggs about that. She will not be able to speak to her husband again, whereas Mr. Addison will be able to talk to his family,” Carson said.

After the vote to repeal, Jeanne Hruska, political director of ACLU New Hampshire said, “We commend all 17 Senators who came together from across the aisle to move New Hampshire one step closer to repealing the death penalty.”

Below: Arnie Alpert of American Friends Service Committee, reacts. Video by Paula Tracy