Thursday, March 26, 2009

Surprise vote in New Hampshire House

Yesterday the New Hampshire House voted to repeal the state's death penalty. Here's New Hampshire Public Radio's news story quoting extensively from Renny Cushing's remarks during the floor debate; the site also has a link to the audio version.

New Hampshire House lawmakers shocked many today when they voted to repeal the state’s death penalty.

The measure passed by 19 votes, one-hundred ninety-three to one-hundred seventy-four.

This comes after a jury sentenced Michael Addison to death last fall for the murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports.

This year death penalty opponents had their hopes on a bill to study the issue.

That measure sailed through the House.

Nobody, really, thought the bill to repeal the death penalty had a chance.

In fact, many members left their seats, or chatted as the first few Representatives spoke in favor of the legislation.

But then....

TAPE: the chair recognizes the member from Hampton, Representative Cushing....Thank you Madame Speaker, members of the House....

....Democrat Renny Cushing started talking about how his dad was murdered.

TAPE: my father was sitting at the kitchen table reading Foster’s Daily Democrat, and my mother was on the couch watching the Boston Celtics playoff game...There was a knock on the front dad got up to open it...and two shotgun blasts rang out, turned his chest into hamburger and he died in front of my mother in the home they lived in for 35 years and raised their seven children.

On hearing such intimate details, House members grew quiet and leaned forward.

Cushing went on.

TAPE: an old friend came up to me and he said, ‘you know Renny, I hope they fry the bastards. I hope they fry the bastards so your mother, and you and your family can get some peace.”

But he says he didn’t have the “normal” reaction to his father’s murder.

On principle, Cushing had always opposed to the death penalty.

And he said, if he changed his opinion in the wake of the murder, he would only give his father’s murderer more power.

TAPE: because not only would my father be taken from me. But so would my values. And it’s the same for society as it is for individuals. If we let those who kill, make us into killers, than evil triumphs. And we all lose.

SFX: That was amazing, honey. That was amazing.

After the vote, teary eyed lawmakers greeted Cushing, people patted his back, others just gave long knowing looks.

Cushing says he’s not sure why a majority voted to repeal capital punishment.

If Committee hearings are any indication, it’s not unusual for emotional anecdotes like Cushing’s to sway House member’s opinions.

Cushing says maybe hearing a so-called ‘victim’ say he didn’t support retribution flipped some votes.

Or maybe, it’s because people are uncomfortable with the result of the Addison and John Brooks cases.

TAPE: there is this concern about justice in black and white in New Hampshire. And the fact that we had two capital cases; and the white millionaire gets off and the black get from Boston gets death bothers people.

Not everyone believes the death penalty needs to be repealed.

TAPE: sad day for the state of New Hampshire. The saddest I’ve seen in 21 years.

That’s Republican Representative Julie Brown.

She’s in her 11th term.

TAPE: I am appalled. And I am just wondering if Mrs. Briggs and her sons are listening to what the New Hampshire Legislature did. How do you think they feel waking up every morning knowing their loved one is gone? And yet the prisoner sits in jail. With the lap of luxury, medical care, three meals a day. Better than any welfare.

The measure now heads to the Senate.

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte says she will lobby to kill the bill.

She may not have to work too hard.

Already senators from both sides of the aisle say the legislation has no chance.

But somehow, if this bill defies the odds like it just has in the House, Governor Lynch has promised vowed to veto it.

For NHPR News, I’m Dan Gorenstein.

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