Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't expand death penalty

Renny Cushing and MVFHR are mentioned in this editorial in the 3/15/11 edition of Seacoast Online, "Don't expand death penalty out of rage":

New Hampshire is moving in the wrong direction on the death penalty and it is moving there fast.

At a time when many states are repealing death penalty laws because too many innocent people are being sent to death, a New Hampshire House Committee voted last week to expand the state's existing narrow death penalty law to include murders committed during home invasions.

This death penalty expansion was proposed by House Speaker William O'Brien in direct response to the 2009 murder of Kimberly Cates in her Mont Vernon home.

The brutal murder of Cates and the vicious attack on her daughter make us yearn for revenge. We want to punish the monstrous young men who dared commit this atrocity on an innocent mother and child. Somehow we feel that revenge will restore the balance of justice in the world.

But it won't.

As the great Indian leader Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi noted: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

The House Committee has passed this law because it is blind with rage.

We understand the rage but reject the idea that the monstrous behavior of some sociopathic teenagers should cause the state to seek more opportunities to kill in the name of justice.

New Hampshire last put a man to death under death penalty laws in 1939. Since that time, the law has been narrowed to apply almost exclusively to the killing of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.

While we disagree with the death penalty in any form, we understand that some officers feel the death penalty offers them some protection as they place themselves in harm's way to keep us safe.

Michael Addison is on death row today for the 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. The existing law didn't protect Briggs as it has not protected many officers who have tragically been killed in the line of duty in states with death penalty laws. That said, it's hard to deny this perceived protection to officers who are putting their lives on the line to keep the public safe.

The New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission did an excellent job between October 2009 and December 2010 exploring all aspects of this highly charged issue. It was an excellent commission with representatives from law enforcement, families of murder victims, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and mental health advocates. In the end, the commission voted to support the existing law, to continue sentencing to death those who kill law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

Robert "Renny" Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, served on the study commission. His father was shot to death outside his Hampton home two decades ago. While disappointed with the final vote Cushing expressed respect and gratitude to all commission members.

In a letter dated Dec. 1, 2010, Cushing, who is a member of the Hampton Union editorial board's community advisory board, wrote: "I served on the commission with two other family members of murder victims: Bob Charron, whose son Officer Jeremy Charron was murdered in Epsom in 1997, and Brad Whitney, whose father Eli Whitney was murdered in 2001. Although we ended up disagreeing about the death penalty, their presence on the Commission was important to me. At times when a witness or a member of the Commission would embark on an explanation of legal intricacies or the theories and arcane points about statistical analysis, I would get a sense that somehow the reality of the murder of real people was getting lost in the process. It was good to know I was not the only person in the room who felt in his gut that this was not just a theoretical discussion."

The death penalty is too important an issue to tackle when we are still feeling rage over a horrible crime. Our sense of justice has been dealt a blow by the murder of Kimberly Cates, and we want to strike back. But we should control ourselves and think before we take another step in the wrong direction.

"At the end of the day, the death penalty is not about those who kill, it is about us," Cushing wrote. "We, as a society, become what we say we abhor, killers. I don't want the state killing in my name."

We strongly agree with Cushing and urge lawmakers not to seek speedy vengeance.

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