Death penalty repeal passes Senate and House with veto-proof majorities

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/15/2019 8:24:23 AM

New Hampshire is likely to become the 21st state to do away with the death penalty, after both the state House and Senate passed a bill abolishing the practice with resounding majorities.

“We’re very pleased and cautiously optimistic those votes in the Senate and the House will hold, and be able to override the Governor’s veto,” former circuit judge and Peterborough attorney L. Phillips Runyon III told the Ledger-Transcript Friday.

Runyon testified in front of both legislatures, advocating for the repeal.

Republican Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a similar bill last year, and his stance on the issue hasn’t changed, but this year it appears there is enough support in both chambers to override a veto.

On Thursday, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 17 to 6, which is within the two-thirds majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto. The House passed the bill last month, also passing the two-thirds majority with a 279 to 88 vote.

In 2018, when Sununu vetoed the death penalty repeal, he issued a statement saying, “There is no doubt that the most heinous crimes warrant the death penalty,” and said he stood behind crime victims and members of law enforcement with his decision.

While the bill was bipartisan, the majority of the dissenting votes came from the Republican side of the aisle, with only one Democratic senator and five Democratic state Reps. voting against the repeal.

All four Monadnock area senators, including Democrats Jeanne Dietsch, Shannon Chandley and Melanie Levesque as well as Republican Ruth Ward voted in favor of repealing the death penalty.

The Concord Monitor reported Ward of Stoddard remarked during the bill’s hearing she favored repeal, despite her own father being killed when she was a child.

“He never saw us grow up. My mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill,” Ward said, according to the Monitor.

Sen. Melanie Levesque, in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript, said the death penalty is “an archaic form of punishment.”

Levesque said there were several compelling arguments heard on the floor, including the fact that the exhaustive appeals process mean a death penalty case is more expensive than housing a prisoner for life without parole. However, she said for her, it was mainly a moral issue.

“When I was younger, I did think that if someone committed some horrible crime, that they should be put to death. But as I got educated and gained understanding, I realized we can’t do this,” Levesque said. “If you kill one person who shouldn’t have been killed, it’s wrong. I just don’t believe in it, and for those who are religious, I don’t think our God believes in it either. He believes in redemption.”

Runyon said on Friday he never presided over a death penalty case during his years as a judge, but he has seen perpetrators of varying levels of violent crime in his time. Based on his experience, he believes consequences do little to deter criminal behavior, particularly violent behavior, he said.

“They don’t give thought to those kinds of things when they commit violent crimes, which are typically done in the ‘heat of the moment’ when they’re angry and not thinking, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Runyon said. “And when they’re pre-meditated, they don’t think they’re going to be caught. Either way it doesn’t serve as a deterrent.”

There have been several attempts to repeal the death penalty in the state. In 2000 and 2018, a bill passed through both legislative houses but was stymied by a Governor’s veto. There was also an attempt to pass a repeal bill in 2014, when Democrat Maggie Hassan, was in office and indicated a willingness to sign the bill into law. The bill passed the House but tied in the Senate that year.

Since 1734, there have been 24 people executed in the state. The last time the state executed a prisoner was 1939 when Howard Long was hanged for molesting and killing 10-year old Mark Jensen of Laconia.

Currently, there is only one person on death row in the state. Michael Addison was convicted of the October 16, 2006 murder of on-duty police officer Michael Briggs. Killing an on-duty officer is a capital offense under New Hampshire law.

If the bill passed by the House and Senate this year stands, the new law would not apply retroactively to Addison’s case.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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