A bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty took a big step forward today with a 225 to 104 vote in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. 

The repeal measure had support from an unusual cross-section of legislators, Democrat and Republican, conservative and progressive, religious and secular, who united behind a belief that the death penalty serves no useful purpose. 

The bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Renny Cushing, told House members that his own views on the topic were influenced by the murders of his father and his brother-in-law.   “The death penalty doesn’t do the one thing we really want: bring our loved ones back,” he explained.  The veteran lawmaker, who serves as Vice Chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said “If you let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs, violence triumphs.”

Although some Representatives argued that heinous crimes deserve the ultimate punishment, the arguments of death penalty opponents prevailed.  For example, Rep. Melanie Levesque talked about the history of racial disparities in application of the death penalty.  Rep. John Cebrowski said capital punishment conflicts with conservative values.  Ray Gagnon, a retired US Marshal, called the death penalty “archaic and ineffective.”    Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, who chairs the Finance Committee, said “the death penalty’s complexity and finality drive the cost through the roof.”  

Among those who voted for repeal were several members who had supported retaining the death penalty in earlier legislative sessions.  Representative Steve Shurtleff, a retired U.S. Marshal, said last month he now sees the death penalty as “a barbaric practice and the time is now to put it aside.”   Representative Dennis Fields, a long-time member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said he was persuaded by the families of murder victims who testified that they did not want another life taken in their names.  

The effort rested on top of a major organizing drive led by the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a group that AFSC’s New Hampshire Program helped found fifteen years ago.   The Coalition’s members have been busily contacting legislators, organizing educational programs, and building momentum to make 2014 the year the death penalty is abolished. 

The repeal measure now moves to the State Senate, where a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee is expected in April.   AFSC and the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are already gearing up for the next phase of the campaign.