The criminal justice community has lost a giant and Death Penalty Focus has lost a dear friend with Robert “Renny” Cushing’s passing. Cushing died Monday night from prostate cancer at the age of 69.
The New Hampshire House Democratic leader, Cushing spent decades promoting legislation to abolish the death penalty, finally succeeding in 2019. The legislature overrode the governor’s veto, and on May 30, 2019, Cushing was responsible for New Hampshire becoming the 21st state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty.
Cushing, a tireless advocate for crime victims and a staunch opponent of capital punishment, was the founder and Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. His opposition to the death penalty was unshakeable, surprising to some because his father was murdered in 1988. But for him, his father’s killing was all the more reason to oppose the death penalty.
“If we let those who kill turn us into murderers, evil triumphs, and we are all worse off,” he would say.
In November, Cushing was a panelist on a DPF webinar featuring murder victims’ family members. Asked how he persevered in his efforts to get the death penalty abolished year after year in New Hampshire, despite his own personal pain, Cushing said, “I am honored to be able to work with the most amazing people you could possibly imagine, all of whom have had the most unimaginable pain foisted upon them and somehow struggling to make it through it to work every day to make this world a better place for everybody. . . . There’s no shortcut, there’s no easy way forward except forward.”
“He could have been referring to himself when he said that,” DPF President Mike Farrell says. “He channelled his own grief and pain after his father’s murder into supporting those who had lost their loved ones to violence. And knowing first-hand that the death penalty won’t bring victims’ family members peace, he used that knowledge to work tirelessly to get capital punishment abolished in New Hampshire. And even after years of defeat, he never wavered in his conviction and his determination.” Farrell and Cushing had been friends for many years, and over that time, Farrell had traveled to New Hampshire to support Cushing’s efforts. To Farrell, “Renny was a hero.”
Death Penalty Focus honored Cushing in 2019 with its Abolition Award, given each year to an individual or group who inspires us to understand that the struggle to abolish the death penalty, however resisted, is a just and humane pursuit for which we can all take pride and from which humankind will benefit.