(based on an article from NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

State Representatives, council members, selectmen, advocates, victims, and survivors attended the February 1, 2011 hearings on House Bills 147 and 162. HB 147 would add to the categories of offenses punishable under the capital murder statue. This bill proposes to make homicides committed in a person’s home by someone who is “not invited” to be there, a death-eligible case.    HB 162 would go even further, turing all cases now considered first degree murder into capital cases, and converting those now 2nd degree into 1st, punishable my a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.  

Members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony from family and friends of murder victims, and individuals who opposed, supported, or felt indifferent about the proposed legislation.   Rep. Elaine Swinford, Chairwoman of the Committee, read a letter by Governor John Lynch, who endorsed the concept of adding home invasion homicide to the capital murder statue.  Quiet and empathetic listening filled the large auditorium as David Cates spoke of the night his late wife Kimberly was murdered. The sponsors of HB 147 have proposed to name this law after Kimberly Cates, who was murdered in Mount Vernon. He emphasized the lack of the remorse shown by her attackers and how important it is for this bill to be passed. Representative O’Brien of Mount Vernon and Representative Bettencourt of Salem testified and echoed Mr. Cates sentiments about supporting HB 147 to send a “clear” message to the people of NH that as legislators they are committed to protecting our homes.  However, for advocates like Marti Hunt who opposes HB 147, expanding the death penalty does not increase her sense of security and safety. Marti implied that a more active police presence would make her feel safer in her small, rural community in Sutton, NH. In addition, Marti read a letter by Anne Lyczak of West Lebanon, NH who is a widow of a murder victim and a victim of attempted murder. Anne’s written testimony states, “HB 147 and HB 162 simply increase the possible killings. I am asking you to vote NO on these bills. A society must be based on moral bedrock. Killing by anyone, under any conditions, should not be tolerated—and that includes the government.”

The Committee also received testimony from Margaret Hawthorne, a member of Monadnock Quaker Meeting, whose daughter Molly Hawthorne- MacDougal was murdered in her home in 2010. Margaret spoke gently but powerfully about how another death would only increase trauma and will not bring her daughter back. “Murder is murder,” stated Margaret, who explained that advocating for murder by the government would not deter criminals from committing murder.  It is also a poor exemplification of also undermines our humanity. Margaret emphasized that eliminating the death penalty is not synonymous to letting criminals off the hook; rather, it allows our government to put our limited resources toward improving upon our law enforcement and offering assistance and support to the victims’ families.

The opposition of HB 147 continued through testimony from Renny Cushing, whose father was killed in 1988 in his home. Renny suggested that the death penalty does not work and is failed public policy.  Representative Frances Potter asked, “could this bill increase excitement in potential murders looking for the thrill.” In addition, she reminded everyone in attendance that the State of NH would have to build a death chamber and train an official who can carry out an executions. Arnie Alpert testified that there is an illusion that passing the expansion of the death penalty will enhance our safety.  Brother Paul Crawford read a letter on behalf of Bishop McCormick who is opposed to the expansion of the death penalty, emphasizing our moral obligation to not support the killing of another human being.

Testimony also came from Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker, a member of the NH’s cold case unit. Although the Attorney General’s office could not testify about the capital cases currently in court, Addison, Brooks, and Mount Vernon cases, he did comment on the language used in the bill and the impact it may have on prosecution. Delker testified that the proposed bill as it is written would cover a wide variety of offenses. For example, if a man invites his brother to his house, then tells the brother to leave but the two fight and the homeowner is killed during the fight, then the brother has committed a capital offense. Delker implied that the proposed bill as written is problematic, because there is no legal definition of home invasion.  The passage of this law would lead to one to three additional capital cases prosecuted by the AG’s office a year.  Given the resources and time it takes to prosecute one capital murder case, Delker implored the legislators to carefully consider giving the highest quality of resources to the AG’s office. Delker’s testimony supports research that shows that the death penalty is not cost effective compared to life without parole. The NH AG’s office spent more than $4 million during only the trial phase of two capital murder cases and only one defendant received the death penalty.

After lunch, the Committee took more testimony on HB 162, covering much of the same ground.

            Although the frigid and inclement weather prevented some of us from travelling to the State House to testify, there is still an opportunity to tell your state representatives that you oppose death penalty expansion.