Thursday, October 22, 2009

Study Commission in New Hampshire

Yesterday New Hampshire's new Death Penalty Study Commission met for the first time. Like similar commissions in Tennessee and Maryland, this one has an MVFHR member serving on it; New Hampshire's has MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing, who is also a State Representative.

Today's article in the Nashua Telegraph notes that the Commission will consider the following questions about the death penalty:

• Does it serve a legitimate public interest such as general deterrence, specific deterrence, punishment or instilling confidence in the criminal justice system?

• Is it consistent with evolving societal standards of decency?

• Is the use of a penalty phase to determine the death penalty’s use after conviction at trial arbitrary, unfair or discriminatory?

• Should the narrow application of the death penalty in this state be expanded, narrowed, or otherwise altered?

• Are there alternatives to capital punishment that ensure public safety and address the interests of society, the penal system and the families of victims of crime?

• Is there a significant difference in the cost of prosecution and incarceration between capital punishment and life without parole for the convicted capital murderer?

And from another article published in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago:

The murder of 42-year-old Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon over the weekend comes two weeks before state and local officials are scheduled to meet in Concord to begin work examining New Hampshire’s death penalty law, whether it should be abolished, expanded or left as it is.

Cates was killed in her home early Sunday morning while her husband was away on a business trip. Their 11-year-old daughter was also attacked, but is in a Boston hospital and expected to live.

Four teenagers appeared Tuesday in Milford District Court in connection with the slaying. Steven Spader, 17, and Christopher Gribble, 19, both of Brookline, were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. William Marks, 18, and Quinn Glover, 17, both of Amherst, were charged with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary and robbery.

According to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, the crime does not fit within the state’s definition of a capital murder. The current statute restricts issuing the death penalty to cases when a law enforcement or judicial officer is killed in the line of duty, in the case of murder-for-hire, if the accused is currently serving a life sentence or when the murder occurs in connection with a kidnapping, drug crime or sexual assault.

With the state’s Death Penalty Task Force Study Commission set to meet Oct. 21, so soon after this brutal and shocking murder, public outcry over the crime could push some commission members into taking a more serious look at expanding the capital murder law.

Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, an outspoken death penalty opponent who sponsored the bill that created the death penalty study commission, said it is a natural emotional reaction after a horrible murder for people to want to put the accused to death.

“I can understand that. I have a similar reaction when I see these things” despite being opposed to the death penalty, he said. “I think you always have to look at the big picture and the death penalty, what it symbolizes, has created an atmosphere of killing. Most industrialized nations of the world say we should not allow the death penalty for that reason.”

State Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, is a well-known death penalty opponent who was appointed to the study commission. He said he doesn’t think Cates’ murder will influence commission members and expects they will come to the table with an open mind.

“I don’t know if any one particular murder will have an influence,” Cushing said. “I think there are still people who support the death penalty but who have concerns [about] how it’s administered and who selects it.”

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