, Newburyport, MA

March 26, 2009

NH House approves death penalty repeal

By Angeljean Chiaramida

CONCORD, N.H. — Three months after Michael Addison was sentenced to die for killing a Manchester police officer — New Hampshire's first death sentence in 50 years — the New Hampshire House of Representatives has voted to repeal capital punishment.

The bill needs approval by the New Hampshire Senate and Gov. John Lynch. Lynch, a Democrat, said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

"There are some crimes so heinous that I believe capital punishment is warranted," Lynch said after the vote.

Michael Addison was sentenced to death in December for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. No execution date has been scheduled because Addison is appealing the sentence.

Law enforcers, led by Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who prosecuted Addison, have lined up against the repeal.

Yesterday, the House voted 193-174 to send the death penalty repeal bill to the Senate.

"It's unbelievable, this liberal agenda up here," said Seabrook state Rep. Mark Preston, a Democrat who professes not to be as liberal as many of his House colleagues. "I don't believe it passed. I never thought I'd see the day in New Hampshire when a repeal of the death penalty would pass. I spoke with (Seabrook state Reps.) Koko and Amy Perkins, and they said they didn't vote for the repeal either. "

Preston said that during yesterday's debate, state Rep. Robert Cushing Jr., a Hampton Democrat, spoke as he has many times in the past, hoping to persuade his colleagues to repeal the death penalty.

"He's very passionate about it and a very passionate speaker," said Preston, a sergeant with the Seabrook Police Department. "Robert's father was murdered, but he's still very much against the death penalty."

Cushing, whose father was shotgunned to death in 1988, led the fight to repeal the death penalty. After his father's murder, Cushing founded Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

"No matter how many times you kill, that doesn't bring anybody back," he told the House, then asked members to repeal the law "in the name of my father."

"I don't agree with him," Preston said of Cushing. "I think it's still necessary to have the death penalty on the books as a deterrent. I think it works very well in New Hampshire. Of the two recent capital murder cases, one person received the death penalty because the standards were met, and one didn't because they weren't met. In New Hampshire it's a very thorough process. It's not taken lightly."

Wolfeboro Republican Stanley Stevens, who supports the death penalty, listed law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty over the years. Killing a law enforcement official in the line of duty is one of the few capital murder crimes covered under the New Hampshire law. Stevens said the death penalty is a covenant with police officers that their deaths would be avenged, he said.

"We ask them to stand between us and lawlessness," Stevens said.

The state's last execution took place in 1939.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted executions in 1972 and lifted the ban four years later. Of the 35 states that allow capital punishment, only New Hampshire and Kansas have had no executions since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

A death penalty repeal bill passed the New Hampshire House and Senate in 2000 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, now a U.S. senator. A similar bill failed last year by 12 votes in the House.

— Associated Press writer Norma Love contributed to this report.