NH Senate May Abolish Death Penalty

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Concord, NH (CNSNews.com) - A little more than a month after the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 191 to 163 to abolish the death penalty, the measure is now before the state senate's judiciary committee. The panel has held nearly five hours of hearings and listened to 55 speakers, of which 51 favored abolition.

Among the witnesses testifying in favor of abolition was Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing five years ago. Welch characterized the use of the death penalty as little more than the need for revenge and rage.

"Revenge and rage is exactly why Julie and 167 others are dead in that city." Welch insisted rage and revenge were what motivated convicted bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols because of what federal law enforcement agents did in Waco, Texas.

"When we execute people in this country, it is an act of rage and revenge. It is not a deterrent," Welch added.

Repeal advocates also brought in a Maryland man who spent nine years on death row before being released after a DNA test proved his innocence.

Former death row inmate Kurt Bloodsworth told the committee, "This is not about the guilty people that need to be punished. This is about the innocent people that need to be protected...if this could happen to me, it could happen to any citizen in New Hampshire... "The simple answer to the question is, if you don't have it, you can't make a mistake."

"Why should New Hampshire remain among such countries as Iran, Iraq, China and Syria, when all the countries whose political traditions we claim to share have abolished the death penalty," said Joshua Rubenstein, New England regional Director of Amnesty International.

On the opposite side of the issue was Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen, who told the panel she opposes the proposed legislation and that, in some cases, the death penalty is needed. Referring to Carl Draga, a Granite State resident who went on a killing rampage in August 1997 before being killed, Shaheen said, "Had Carl Draga lived, I believe he should have been prosecuted under our death penalty statute."

The governor's position received support from the state's association of chiefs of police.

However, Democratic State Representative Jim Splaine, who sponsored the measure that passed the House, took heart at what the governor did not say.

"She didn't say she was going to veto the bill," Splaine said, should it pass the Senate and be resolved in a conference committee.

"I think its obvious that sometime during the 21st century, we're going to see every state in the nation abolish the death penalty and join the rest of the civilized world...it would be nice if New Hampshire was the first state to do so," Splaine added.

Democratic State Representative Jackie Witherspoon echoed Splaine and urged the public to "lobby your senators, call your state representatives and write articles to the press."

"We need sometime to digest what we heard and read with this eloquent testimony," said State Senator Debora Pignatelli, committee chairman, who added that she couldn't be certain when or how the committee might act on the death penalty measure.