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Bar News - August 13, 2010

Death Penalty Commission To Hold 3 Public Hearings


The December 2008 conviction of Michael Addison, the first person sentenced to death in a New Hampshire court in almost 50 years, prompted a reevaluation of our laws and beliefs towards capital punishment. Last summer, the state legislature passed a bill to create a commission to study the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Since last fall, the 22-member commission chaired by retired Superior Court Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy, has been meeting almost monthly, hearing from proponents and opponents of the death penalty. The commission will take a higher profile next month when it holds three public hearings at state college campuses around the state.

Hearings are scheduled for: Thursday, Sept. 9, at Plymouth State University; Thursday, Sept. 16, at Keene State College; and Thursday, Sept. 30 at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Times and locations are to be announced.

The Commission on the Death Penalty in New Hampshire has held monthly meetings to hear from presenters on selected topics. The commission has listened to testimony on the deterrent value of capital punishment, its costs, the lack of facilities to house a death chamber, and a review of the aggravating and mitigating factors of the current statute.

The Commission is will make a written recommendation to the state legislature by December 1, 2010. Judge Murphy said the final product would probably include majority and minority reports and possibly other intermediate positions that will be submitted. "Everything is a point of view," said Judge Murphy, adding: "All I’m trying to do is move this process along."

Death penalty opponents, the law enforcement community, church organizations, exonerated inmates from death row, and family members of victims on both sides of the issue, all presented testimony. These groups, along with others, have come from all over the country to address the subject of each meeting, with hopes of influencing legislation.

The June 18 meeting addressed how cases are selected for the death penalty in New Hampshire. Senior Assistant Attorneys Jeffrey Strelzin and William Delker described the process of selecting a death penalty case. The two stressed how New Hampshire has one of the narrowest death penalty statutes in the country, and they complimented the quality of representation in the two recent cases involving capital murder charges – the Addison case and the Jesse Brooks trial, a contract killing, which resulted in a guilty verdict, but not a death sentence.

One issue with the death penalty in America is the inconsistency with which it is applied across the country. Fifteen states do not have the death penalty, including many states in New England, such as Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island. States with the highest number of death row inmates include California, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. Some states, such as Maryland, have counties with different death penalty standards, creating even more differences.

Bar News reporting intern Krista Glencross is a recent graduate of Skidmore College.

New Hampshire’s Death Penalty

A person qualifies for the death penalty if convicted for murders committed in the course of rape, kidnapping, or drug crimes; for the killing of a law enforcement officer; for murder for hire; for murder by an inmate while serving a sentence of life without parole (RSA 630:1, RSA 630:5).

A separate jury trial, involving the same jury that convicted the defendant, is conducted to evaluate the aggravating and mitigating factors set forth in RSA 630:5.

New Hampshire last executed someone in 1939.

Commission Members

Hon. Walter L. Murphy, Chair
Sen. Amanda Merrill, Vice-Chair
Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, Vice-Chair
Rep. Robert "Renny" Cushing, legislator, death penalty opponent
Philip McLaughlin, attorney, former Attorney General
Orville "Bud" Fitch, Deputy Attorney General
Blaine Randy Hawkes, NH Public Defender
Lawrence Vogelman, Vice President, NH Bar Association
James Reams, Esq., Rockingham County Attorney
Michael Iacopino, NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Charles Putnam, attorney, co-director of JusticeWorks, UNH
John Kissinger, attorney, former prosecutor
Daniel St. Hilaire, former Merrimack County Attorney
Sherry Young, attorney, former counsel to Gov. Judd Gregg
Ted Smith, Lincoln Police Chief
Jackie Weatherspoon, Harvard Law School mediator, former NH state legislator
John Jaskolka – former Manchester Chief of Police
Dr. James MacKay, NH Mental Health Council, former Concord mayor
Stephen Arnold – retired detective, Portsmouth Police Department
Phillip Gaiser - NH State Police
Bradley Whitney, mechanical engineer, father of a murder victim
Robert Charron, retired banker, (father of a slain police officer, Jeremy Charron)

For more information, visit the Commission website.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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