Today, the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission is releasing its final report after a year of work. The 22-member commission voted 12-10 to retain New Hampshire's death penalty, as this news story reports.
While we are, of course, disappointed by the final recommendation of the Commission, we also know that the testimony presented to the Commission during its many hearings provides a substantial and powerful record of problems with capital punishment. Victims' family members testified at several of the hearings, and we know that that testimony persuaded one Commission member to vote for abolishing the state's death penalty. Here is an excerpt from the statement that that Commission member, attorney Sherilyn Burnett Young, submitted:
I came to the first meeting of the Commission with an open mind, prepared to listen to the testimony and consider the evidence both for and against the death penalty. Unlike many around the table, I had no strong feelings either in favor of or against the imposition of the death penalty. At the end of an extensive, educational and emotional process of hearings and deliberations, I have concluded that I am opposed to the death penalty.
In my view, the evidence before the Commission did not demonstrate that the death penalty is a meaningful deterrent to the commission of murder. I am concerned that the decision to seek the death penalty may be arbitrary and unfair, despite the best intentions of the decision maker, and therefore cannot be constitutionally applied. I believe that putting a murderer to death through a state proceeding is not consistent with societal standards of decency – an overwhelming majority of those that testified were against the death penalty, and the death penalty has been rejected by most of the Western world. The religious community throughout New Hampshire is united against the death penalty. And the costs to seeking the death penalty are substantially greater than seeking a sentence of life without parole.
While there are several factors that lead me to oppose the death penalty, one above all was the testimony I heard from the family members of murder victims. To my great surprise, the testimony of these witnesses was overwhelmingly opposed to the death penalty. I believe that life without parole is an acceptable alternative to the death penalty, and far better serves the interests of the families of murder victims. It provides for relatively swift justice to be served, placing the murderer out of public view for the remainder of his life, and lets the healing process begin for the families who have themselves been victimized.
Tomorrow we will post excerpts from Renny Cushing's statement and recommendations.