Twenty-one years after New Hampshire legislator Renny Cushing introduced his first bill to repeal the death penalty, he was finally successful last month when the legislature overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto, and abandoned capital punishment. Twenty one states have now outlawed the barbaric punishment, and four others have moratoria in place. In addition, the repeal means no state in New England has the death penalty.
“Our efforts do pay off even if, as in New Hampshire, it takes decades,” DPF President Mike Farrell says.
For Rep. Cushing, it was a personal as well as a political victory. Both Cushing’s father and brother-in-law were murdered in separate incidents, and Cushing has long decried the cycle of violence that the death penalty perpetuates.
“I know firsthand that the pain and trauma from losing a loved one to violent crime will never dissipate. Today’s vote will ensure that this cycle of pain, which only creates more and more victims in its wake, will no longer be perpetuated by our state government,” Cushing said in a statement released after the vote.
The override wouldn’t have been possible, of course, without the votes of Republican legislators. In her Atlantic article, “GOP Lawmakers Are Quietly Turning Against the Death Penalty,” Madeleine Carlisle points out that, “New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states where Republicans . . . are joining Democrats to push for a ban.”
She says there are several reasons conservatives are increasingly opposed to the death penalty, but believes the basic reason is exemplified by two of the New Hampshire Republicans who voted for repeal. Rep. David Welch, whose wife died on Christmas Day 2016, and Sen. Bob Guida, whose wife lives in a vegetative state, both cited their personal experiences as motivating factors in their becoming death penalty opponents. “That type of deeply intimate answer may be why Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire, and in other states, are joining together to scrap death-penalty laws, even as they remain deeply polarized on a whole set of other issues,” Carlisle writes.
New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939. The only person on death row is David Addison, who was convicted of killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. The repeal does not apply retroactively.
Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Hauke