New Hampshire: 21st State to Abolish the Death Penalty in the USA

Good news

By Aurelie Placais, on 12 June 2019

Bill HB455 entitled “relative to the penalty for capital murder” was introduced on 3 January 2019. The New Hampshire House of Representative (vote on 7 March 2019: 279-88) and Senate (vote on 11 April 2019: 17-6) voted to abolish the death penalty, only to have Governor Sununu veto it on 3 May 2019. They voted again end of May to override the veto (House of Representative vote on 23 May: 247-123; Senate vote on 30 May: 16-8) and the bill became law.

The last execution took place in 1939, but there is still one person on death row. The repeal law does not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. But death penalty abolition in other states have often led to the commutation of the remaining death sentences. Since its first use in 1734, New Hampshire has executed 24 people.

A lesson in perseverance

This repeal was made possible after two decades of hard work. Hampton Democrat Rep. Renny Cushing had sponsored repeal bills unsuccessfully for years. In 2000, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2000. In 2014, Gov. Maggie Hassan, also a Democrat, said she would support the bill, but the Senate deadlocked vote 12-12 prevented the repeal of the death penalty.

 “Today as I watched the final vote for repeal, I was thinking back 5 years ago to when the WCADP Steering Committee assembled in New Hampshire, at a moment when we in our state were on the cusp of repeal. We were so disappointed when the final vote to repeal failed by a tie vote. Since that time we have worked diligently, inspired by being part of a global abolition movement, to secure the votes necessary to advance repeal” wrote Repr. Renny Cushing, representative of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights to the World Coalition. “I speak often of the visit of the World Coalition to New Hampshire. And I am glad that today former WCADP President Elizabeth Zitrin was present of this historic vote.”

Repr. Renny Cushing in the small gallery, standing as he was recognized by the New Hampshire senate in the chamber below when they voted to override the governor veto and abolished the death penalty

Opponents of capital punishment cheered from the Senate gallery when the override vote was tallied. They hugged and they cried. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Zitrin: “Renny in the small gallery, standing as he was recognized by the senate in the chamber below.”

New strategies

“The vote today in New Hampshire is the result of the legislature recognizing the voices of family member of murder victims opposed to the death penalty, the voices of law enforcement opposed to the death penalty, and the witness of persons wrongfully condemned exposing the dangers of capital punishment” added Repr. Renny Cushing.

The first hearing at the House of Representative Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on 19 February gathered more than 90 witnesses. Many organizations worked together to make it happen, including the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the ACLU, American Friends Service Committee and others.

“I am grateful to the many survivors of murder victims who bravely shared their stories with the Legislature this session, many of whom told us that the death penalty, with its requisite long legal process, only prolongs the pain and trauma of their loss,” said Democratic Senator Martha Hennessey in explaining her vote to override the veto.

The bill was also successful because it was a bipartisan bill. "Ending New Hampshire’s death penalty would not have been possible without significant Republican support. Increasing numbers of GOP state lawmakers believe capital punishment does not align with their conservative values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and valuing life” said Hannah Cox from the Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

A Growing Trend

Over the last 10 years, 7 states in the USA have abolished the death penalty, either by the legislature voting for a bill (New Hampshire in 2019, Maryland in 2013, Connecticut in 2012, Illinois in 2011 and New Mexico in 2009) or by the state supreme court ruling for its abolition (Washington in 2018 and Delaware in 2016). In 2017, Nebraska’s legislature also abolished the death penalty, but voters subsequently reinstated it in a referendum the same year.

In the USA, 21 states have now abolished the death penalty and 29 states still allow capital punishment, but in 4 of them governors have issued moratoriums on the death penalty: California in 2019, Colorado in 2013, Oregon in 2011 and Pennsylvania in 2015.

“I (…) thank every member of the World Coalition for supporting the work in our state to end capital punishment” added Repr. Renny Cusing. “The vote today in New Hampshire is a victory for the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and all who work to rid the world of the death penalty.”

(Source for Infographics: DPIC)


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