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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

New Hampshire Governor Vetoes Death Penalty Repeal

New Hampshire Governor Vetoes Death Penalty Repeal
Governor Chris Sununu signaled he'd veto the death penalty repeal long before lawmakers sent one to his desk.

So, at the event his press team billed as an announcement on the repeal bill, the only real suspense was over how many police officers Sununu could squeeze into his office to witness his veto.

"So the desk doesn't move, unfortunately, so I will sit down and suck it in and we will tuck in as best we can here."

And police weren't the only invited guests.

Family members of murder victims were also on hand. Sununu said for the worst sort of crimes, the death penalty remains what he called the "ultimate justice."

"Abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire would send the wrong message to those who would commit the most heinous offenses, namely, that New Hampshire is a place where a person who would commit the unthinkable crime may be guaranteed leniency."

New Hampshire hasn't put a criminal to death since 1939, and remains the only state in the northeast with a death penalty. 

The last time a repeal bill reached a governor's desk here was in 2000. Then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it.

Source: npr.org, Josh Rogers, June 21, 2018


As promised, Sununu vetoes death penalty repeal bill


Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill Thursday that would have abolished New Hampshire’s death penalty, and said the state has an obligation to support law enforcement and deliver justice for victims.

Police officers crowded into his office to watch him veto the bill, as did family members of several murder victims. After he was done, he gave his red veto pen to Laura Briggs, whose husband, Manchester Officer Michael Briggs, was shot to death in 2006. Michael Briggs’s killer is on death row.

“If a person chooses to commit such an unspeakable act in our state, that person should know that a jury of their peers may elect to impose the ultimate justice,” Sununu said. “While I very much respect the arguments made by the proponents of this bill, I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates of justice. New Hampshire does not take the death penalty lightly, we only use it sparingly. ... In the most heinous cases where the death penalty may be imposed, New Hampshire is second to none when it comes to protecting defendants’ rights and ensuring a fair process.”

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies in only seven scenarios: the killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge, murder for hire, murder during a rape, certain drug offenses or home invasion, and murder by a someone already serving a life sentence without parole. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and the repeal bill would not have applied retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Michael Briggs and is the state’s only inmate on death row.

Death penalty opponents argued that courts might have interpreted it differently, however. Others argued that imposing the death penalty doesn’t give victims the closure that repeal advocates assume it would. Laura Bonk of Concord was 23 when her mother was killed and her sister was shot in 1989 in Massachusetts. The killer died of natural causes after spending 18 years in prison.

“When he died, there was no sense of closure or relief. The closure and relief came from the conviction,” she said. “New Hampshire has 100 unsolved murders. I would like my tax money spent on solving those murders for those victims’ family members.”

But Jane Sylvestre of Franklin said she supported Sununu’s decision. She attended the veto ceremony holding a photo of a nephew who was beaten to death in 2015, just before his first birthday.

“The guy that murdered him, all he got was life; he should be dead. I believe in the death penalty,” she said. “These officers that protect us should have a right to go out in the streets and be safe. That’s why crime is so high, no one gets punished.”

Former governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2000. Another Democrat, former governor John Lynch, signed a bill in 2011 expanding the death penalty to cover home invasions in response to a machete and knife attack that killed a woman and maimed her daughter in Mont Vernon.

Source: The Associated Press, Concord Monitor, Holly Ramer, June 21, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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