Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is it Something We Can Live Without?

From a 8/31/08 article in the Massachusetts Eagle Tribune headlined "N.H. capital murder cases bring death penalty to forefront":

... Two capital murder trials have reignited efforts by the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

A new 15-member steering committee is pushing for the study commission in 2009, said Barbara Keshen, legal counsel for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

"The reason we think that's important is that New Hampshire has never really done that kind of hard work, to really appreciate the consequence to be active in death penalty (litigation)," she said. "No one has done the analysis on the emotional toll on victims, on families, on lawyers and the time consumption done by the courts."

Keshen said the group also is working on recruiting new members to broaden its base.

"We're hoping to develop our membership base throughout every county in the state," she said. "We want to host educational forums and get into the communities so they can learn what it means for the state of New Hampshire."

The trial of millionaire businessman John "Jay" Brooks, 56, formerly of Derry, is set to begin next week. A panel of 18 jurors will weigh whether Brooks is responsible for the 2005 murder-for-hire plot against his former mover, Jack Reid, 57, of Derry. A jury of 12 will ultimately be chosen to decide Brooks' guilt or innocence. If he's convicted of capital murder, that same jury will sit on a second trial to determine whether Brooks should be executed.

That case will be followed by the trial of Michael Addison, 27, of Dorchester, Mass., accused of the 2006 fatal shooting of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs.

Keshen said the group plans to make some kind of public disapproval of the two capital murder cases next month, but would not elaborate.

"We don't see our mission as interfering in the judicial process," Keshen said, "but we do want to make a public expression of grief for the families of victims in those two cases and families of defendants who face the prospect of losing a loved one."

Gov. John Lynch has said he would veto legislation to repeal the death penalty if it reaches his desk. Yet lawmakers have come close in recent years to passing a bill to repeal it.

Splaine's last bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison was defeated in the House, 185-173. The House defeated a similar bill in 2006 by 63 votes.

Critics of the death penalty say the extra litigation and years of automatic appeals are far too costly for New Hampshire and mete out little more in the way of justice.

"The lesson that will come out of these two trials is that the death penalty is going to warrant further examination," said Renny Cushing, executive director for Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

Cushing, whose father was murdered by a Hampton police officer in 1988, said he may run for state representative in the fall, but not only to push for a bill to abolish capital punishment.

"It's a separate issue," he said. "Certainly, we know there will be an abolition bill that will be introduced. And, based upon the experience earlier this year, where there was support of a death penalty study commission, that will probably be introduced as well."

Cushing said the Legislature planned to study the death penalty in 1973, but nobody ever followed through.

"Here we are 35 years on, and there's never been a thoughtful examination of the death penalty as public policy," Cushing said. "Does it meet the needs of law enforcement? And does it meet the needs of our society as a whole? And is it something we can live without?"

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