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Viewpoint

Why you should care about the state’s death penalty

On April 3, my wife and I attended the Senate hearing on HB1170, which would abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire. We heard many testimonies from mainly the “abolish” group, but also from those who feel it is acceptable to use the death penalty.

I realize I am a novice when it comes to considering this issue as many of the people who testified were current and former police officers, legislators, a former state prosecutor, a former chief justice of the N.H. Supreme Court, and family members who have lost loved ones to murder. What impressed me the most was the number of people of my “senior” generation who used to support the death penalty and who have now changed their position and oppose the death penalty.

Some of the reasons cited that were new or made more clear to me:

Executions take many, many years of trials and hearings, thereby greatly extending any closure for the family members.

Costs to the state are dramatically higher than a life sentence. As of September 2013, the case of Michael Addison, who was convicted in the senseless murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006, has cost taxpayers nearly $5 million.

We are in the company of China, Iran and North Korea as countries that still feel the death penalty is appropriate. New Hampshire is the only state in New England with a death penalty law. We are out of step with modern thinking.

The possibility of making a mistake is unacceptable when the state executes a prisoner. The former attorney realized himself how he was so sure the person “deserved the death penalty” in one case, and later found he was wrong.

The state should not ask employees to perform the executions, and people who act as executioners frequently suffer from mental problems as a result.

Ray Dodge of Jaffrey, a retired police officer, pointed out, “It’s been stated that the death penalty is needed to protect our police and the public. Not only does the death penalty fail to accomplish that, I believe it actually places our police and the public in greater danger. First, it diverts scarce financial resources for providing additional enhanced training for our police so that they may more safely deal with critical tactical incidents. It diverts scarce financial resources from procuring enhanced safety equipment to protect our police, especially equipment necessary to respond to critical tactical incidents.”

The N.H. House of Representatives has passed the bill and the Governor has said she will sign it. I realize some people disagree and respect that, but for me this is a historic opportunity to get “the State which acts on our behalf” out of the business of “Killing People to Show that Killing is Bad.”

Please call or email your senator today as the vote is within days, probably on April 17.

If you are in District 9 — which includes Bedford, Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Lyndeborough, Mont Vernon, New Boston, Peterborough, Richmond, Sharon, Temple and Troy — call Andy Sanborn at 271-8472, or email him at andy.sanborn@leg.state.nh.us.

If you do not live in these towns, find your senator at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/Senate/members/wml.aspx.

Thomas Westheimer lives in Peterborough.

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