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NH Death Penalty Expansion Opposed

NH Death Penalty Expansion Opposed

Published: May 19, 2011
Sen. Luther listens

Sen. Jim Luther listens to testimony from Sr. Helen Prejean.

Photo: AFSC / Arnie Alpert

If legislators are really looking for expensive, ineffective government programs to eliminate, they can start with HB 147, the bill to add homicide committed in the course of a “home invasion” to the list of crimes punishable by execution. 

A parade of speakers, including Sr. Helen Prejean and local clergy members, relatives of homicide victims, members of the Death Penalty Study Commission, Amnesty International members from Hanover High School, civil libertarians, and the former President of the NH Psychiatric Association drew on theology, psychology, human rights, and fiscal responsibility to clearly outline why the legislation takes the state in the wrong direction.  

Margaret Hawthorn told the Senators about the murder of her daughter, Molly Hawthorne-MacDougall, in her own home last year. “Another death would only increase my family's trauma and would not bring Molly back. The bill being discussed today could make a case like hers capital because her murder happened in the contest of a home invasion.”

“Molly would not want anyone killed in her name,” Hawthorne said. 

But the minority viewpoint in the room was a loud one; the death penalty expansion bill is sponsored by Speaker of the House William O’Brien, who represents the town of Mont Vernon, where the horrific murder of Kimberly Cates took place and who sees the bill as one of his top priorities.  Prior to the hearing, O’Brien worked out amended language preferred by the Attorney General’s office to more clearly time the concept of “home invasion” to the crime of burglary.  With that change, the bill will be supported, too, by Gov. John Lynch.

Larry Vogelman, an experienced defense attorney who served on last year’s Death Penalty Study Commission, explained that even though a slim majority of commissioners favored retaining the death penalty on the books, very few favored expansion.  He also noted they were in agreement that the death penalty is far more expensive to administer than the likely alternative: treating crimes now covered under the capital murder statute as first degree murder, the penalty for which is a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.   At a time in which millions of dollars of cuts in services are being debated, one might expect a voice for fiscal responsibility to be welcomed.   But that won’t happen unless Senators hear a louder outcry from constituents.

Opposition to the bill was organized by the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, in which the AFSC is active.