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Police discuss death penalty

Most see NH law as means of protection

The N.H. Supreme Court ruling last Wednesday on the capital murder conviction of Michael Addison has shone an intense light on the death penalty and its place in New Hampshire.

In response to an appeal filed by Addison in which he cites unfair trial and jury selection, the justices affirmed Addison’s conviction in the October 2006 killing of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. The ruling did not affirm Addison’s death sentence, citing a need for further review. If Addison is executed, he would be the first in New Hampshire since 1939.

Last Wednesday’s ruling came just after Democratic State Rep. Remy Cushing (D-Hampton) introduced a death penalty repeal bill, which he brought to the House on Oct. 24.

Ray Dodge, a Jaffrey man who has worked with Peterborough and Marlborough police in the past and is now a leading crusader for the repeal of the death sentence in New Hampshire, was with Cushing when the bill was introduced. Dodge said in an interview last Wednesday that no one should decide life and death for another person since no one, including law enforcement officials, is immune to mistakes. Dodge joins the fray of New Hampshire people with strong opinions about the issue.

The Ledger-Transcript recently surveyed area police and state representatives on the death penalty issue. Those working in law enforcement say capital punishment protects police officers who routinely put themselves in danger.

“I think police officers are out there to protect citizens, and they get into a lot of scenarios the average person does not,” said Hancock Police Chief Andrew Wood, in a phone interview Wednesday. When asked if he thought the death penalty was still relevant in New Hampshire, Wood said, “Yes, I do.” He added, “Society needs to send the message that [murdering a police officer] won’t be tolerated.”

Bennington Police Chief Steve Campbell had similar views. “I’m for the death penalty,” he said over the phone Wednesday. “I’m not saying it’s automatic,” Campbell added, saying that defendants should have the right to appeal if there are questions. “But someone shouldn’t be sitting on death row for 20 years. With someone like Addison, it’s pretty obvious he’s the one who did it and meant to do it.”

Campbell later added, “I’m also for [the death penalty] under other circumstances.” For Campbell, murders that are premeditated may also warrant the death penalty. When asked why the capital punishment is usually reserved for the death of police officers, Campbell said, “We put ourselves in harm’s way all the time. We need a little bit of protection.”

Rindge Police Det. Jeff Seppela also spoke to why the killing of a police officer may warrant the death penalty, while the murder of someone else may not. “The profession of being in law enforcement is inherently dangerous,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re expected to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect other people, and when a police officer is murdered basically in cold blood, I think that’s the reason for the enhanced penalty.”

Seppela later added, “Death is a strong thing. But so is causing someone else’s death. Personally, I wouldn’t support getting rid of [the death penalty].”

While other local police were contacted, many declined to comment on the issue. Temple-Greenville Police Chief James McTague cited the reason for his reluctance to share. “It’s such a political thing,” he said.

Indeed, the death penalty will enter into state politics come January, when Rep. Cushing’s death penalty repeal bill is expected to be taken up. State Rep. Jonathan Manley (D-Bennington) spoke about his views by phone Wednesday.

“I guess you can say that, in general, I am not in favor of the death penalty,” Manley said. Though he said he’s supported capital punishment in the past, Manley now thinks the penalty has lost its purpose as a way to stop people from killing police officers. “Because we don’t use it, is it really a deterrent for anybody?” he said.

State Rep. James Parison, (R-New Ipswich), shared Manley’s sentiments. “I don’t think the death penalty is effective and I think we should throw it out,” Parison said on Wednesday. Parison added that he thought the old way of doing things, hanging, which is still a legally acceptable way to execute someone in New Hampshire, might be a more successful deterrent to potential criminals. Parison said that lethal injection doesn’t look to be a very severe way to die.

In general, though, Parison sees life in prison as a “far more serious and appropriate” way to punish those who kill others. “I think we should be tougher about life in prison. It’s dangerous to let someone out on parole after 10 years, just because there isn’t room for them,” he said.

Both Manley and Parison both said the death penalty only for people convicted of killing a police officer, as opposed to an average citizen, seemed unfair. “I really disagree with that kind of discrimination,” Parison said.

Manley said, “I think the taking of my life is just as important as [the taking] of others.”

State Rep. John Hunt (R-Rindge) spoke for the other side of the issue on Wednesday. Hunt, who has served in the House since 1986, said over the phone, “I have always voted against repeal.”

Hunt feels there is plenty of reason to keep the death penalty around. “Absolutely, there are cases where it is appropriate,” he said. “If you kill a police officer in uniform, then yes.”

When asked whether he thought the death penalty was working as a deterrent to killings of police officers when it hadn’t been used in over 70 years, Hunt said that the lack of its use was proof that it is working.

Hunt also added that the death penalty helps to speed along the judicial process. “My little theory is, the death penalty is a good way to negotiate somebody to not go to trial,” he said. Without the prospect of a death sentence, Hunt said a defendant is “absolutely going to fight [a conviction],” as opposed to taking a plea bargain for life in prison.

And what about fairness? Hunt said it is fine by him if people are sentenced to death for killing someone, police officer or not. He said the death penalty is warranted for any murders, “especially when it’s so clearly premeditated. You just don’t go shooting people.”

Hunt added that this applies to Michael Addison’s case, too. “There is enough evidence to show that he was going to shoot whoever showed up. I think the death penalty is appropriate.”

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

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