Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In New Hampshire

Victims' family members Renny Cushing, Arnie Alpert, Margaret Hawthorn, and Laura Bonk testified in New Hampshire yesterday in opposition to a bill that would expand the state's death penalty. An article in today's Concord Monitor quotes from Margaret's testimony and reports that the bill did not get much support:

It's unlikely the state's death penalty law will be expanded to include murder during a robbery or murders that are "especially heinous, cruel or depraved."

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously yesterday to recommend the bill be killed. The recommendation still must go before the full House.

Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, said the bill was so broadly written that it could have made almost any murder a capital offense. "It was just a poorly drafted bill," Shurtleff said. "It was very vague."

At a hearing yesterday, some questioned what murder wouldn't be considered "cruel" or "heinous" as described by the bill.

Under the existing law, seven crimes are punishable by death: the murder of a police officer; murder for hire; and murder during a kidnapping, rape, drug deal or burglary. Murder while serving life without parole is also a capital offense.

Burglary was added last year in response to a machete and knife attack that left a Mont Vernon woman dead and her daughter badly injured. Rep. Ross Terrio, a freshman Republican from Manchester, introduced his bill to expand it further to close what he considered a "loophole" in the existing law.

Terrio told committee members yesterday that capital murder needs to be more evenly applied to all murders that are particularly heinous or those involving the torture of the victim.

The state attorney general's office estimated that 11 murders since 2009 would have been capital offenses under Terrio's bill.

Anticipating objections from the religious community, Terrio cited the Old Testament and said Moses spoke of offenses that should be punished by death.

That's not untrue, Rabbi Robin Nafshi testified yesterday. But more importantly, she said, there are no examples in the Old Testament of the death penalty actually being used. She said religious leaders set such a high threshold that no offense qualified for capital punishment.

"I know many in the Legislature feel their religious laws guide them," she said, urging the committee to defeat Terrio's bill.

Opponents yesterday also included Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge, whose daughter Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, 31, was murdered in her Henniker home in 2009. A Haitian national, Roody Fleuraguste, is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge for her death.

Hawthorn told lawmakers expanding the death penalty law would not make New Hampshire safer or make justice more equitable. Prosecuting and defending a death penalty case also consumes a lot of money that could be better spent, she said.

State officials said a death penalty case can cost millions, compared with a first-degree murder case, which carries a life sentence without parole.

"The cost of receiving justice is priceless," Hawthorn said. "Please don't impede justice by squandering precious resources on the cost of revenge."

Defense attorney Michael Iacopino, who sat on a state death penalty study committee, urged lawmakers to consider the report his committee produced in 2010.

Twelve of the members voted to keep the death penalty and 10 voted to abolish it, he said. "I can tell you that there was not an appetite (on that committee) to expand the death penalty law," he said.

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