With Only One Inmate on Death Row, New Hampshire Considers Abolishing the Death Penalty

Michael Addison during the sentencing phase of his trial in Manchester, N.H., in 2008. He is the state’s sole death row inmate.
Pool photo by Ken Williams

Soon after the man who killed his father with a shotgun blast to the chest was captured, Renny Cushing ran into a friend at the grocery store, who said that he hoped the culprit would be executed so that Mr. Cushing’s family could find some peace.

“I didn’t know how to respond,” recalled Mr. Cushing, who is now a New Hampshire state representative. “I knew he was trying to give me some comfort.”

Mr. Cushing, a Democrat, was then — and is today — a death penalty opponent. And in the 31 years since his father’s murder, he has become one of the nation’s leading opponents of capital punishment. But his efforts at repeal in his home state have always fallen short.

That may soon change: The New Hampshire State Senate is expected to vote on Thursday morning to repeal the death penalty, after a 279-88 vote for repeal in the State House last month.

Twice before — in 2000, and again last year — both chambers have voted for repeal, only to be blocked by a governor’s veto.

This time, backers of repeal are hopeful that 16 of New Hampshire’s 24 senators will vote their way. That would give the measure the two-thirds majority needed to override another anticipated veto by the governor, Chris Sununu, a Republican who is a capital punishment proponent.

If that were to happen, New Hampshire would become the last state in New England to get rid of the death penalty.

And it would continue a national trend toward fewer executions. Twenty states have now abolished capital punishment, and bills to limit the application of the death penalty or to repeal it have been introduced in at least 18 states this year.

With the suspension of capital punishment announced last month in California, most people in the United States now live in places where the death penalty is either outlawed or subject to moratoria, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.

In nine states, he added, repeal bills have significant Republican sponsorship or support. In New Hampshire, too, the debate has not fallen exclusively along party lines. (The House was controlled by Republicans during the 2000 vote for repeal, and it was a Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen, who vetoed that legislation.)

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Kate Taylor and Richard A. Oppel Jr