Death Penalty repeal dies 12-12 in NH Senate

The New Hampshire Senate this morning blocked capital punishment repeal by a 12-12 tally, then voted 24-0 to table that bill, HB 1170. Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) said a simple majority could thus bring the legislation off the table for another showdown before the end of the legislative session.

A single opponent would have to change sides, of course, which seemed unlikely during the passionate debate. But the door seems to be ajar for Democrats to pull a parliamentary surprise some day when even a single Republican fails to show up.

Sen. Bette Lasky (D-Nashua) serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee that backed the bill 3-2, and she voted for it.

“Life without parole is worse than the death penalty,” she said. “No one with that sentence has ever been released in New Hampshire.”

Lawmakers voted 14-10 to kill a Democratic amendment that would have left  murderer Michael Addison on death row. He was convicted in 2008 of killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Republicans argued capital punishment should apply to everyone who deserves it, and repeal should apply to all the same way.

Bill sponsors said retroactive penalty laws are unconstitutional, so the bill could never help Addison, but the amendment would make that intent clear.

Senate majority leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) warned that passing the amendment to HB 1170 would bolster Addison’s claim the death penalty is arbitrary and that it violates his rights to due process and equal treatment. Starting next year equally heinous murderers would get life imprisonment without parole while he would still await lethal injection.

“To meet the requirement for equal protection, a law has to be fundamentally fair,” Bradley explained. “That’s a high hurdle.”

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) broke party ranks in opposition, saying everyone would carry a vote like this with them to the day they die.

Sen. David Pierce (D-Lebanon) was clerking for a Texas judge many years ago and wrote a legal analysis in a heinous murder case that helped send the defendant to his death.

“I’ve regretted that ever since,” Pierce said. “I was three people removed from pushing the needle in myself. Many people have been exonerated from death row, and we should insist on 100 percent accuracy. Being human, we can not.”

"Sen. Bob Bob ODell (R-Lempster) courageously broke party ranks yesterday in voting to repeal the death penalty, voting against an amendment to make sure repeal would not apply to convicted murderer Michael Addison, who is on death row."


My preview this week on the death penalty vote included 15 quotes by supporters of HB 1170. I wrongly attributed a very good one to John-Michael Dumais, executive director of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. It actually comes from a fact sheet on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union. My apologies to both groups that have fought so hard for repeal. Here’s the quote:

“The  death  penalty  is  a  relic  of  the  earliest  days  of  penology  when  slavery,  branding,  and  other   corporal  punishments  were  commonplace.  It  has  no  place  in  a  civilized  society.”