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New Hampshire Ends Death Penalty

by Jayson Hawkins 

Michael Addison, the sole occupant of New Hampshire’s death row, is breathing a little easier these days. Thanks to a two-thirds majority in both the state’s House and Senate, the state’s legislature overrode Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of their bill abolishing capital punishment. The vote came in May of 2019 and put New Hampshire in concert with 20 other states where the death penalty is no longer a legal recourse. 

A growing consensus across the country considers capital punishment “archaic, costly, discriminatory and violent,” according to Melanie Levesque, a democratic state senator. Among states that continue to allow the death penalty, only a few still employ it with regularity, and nearly all of them are located in the conservative Bible Belt, stretching from Texas to Florida. 

Over 2,600 individuals remain on death rows in the U.S., though many are located in states that have been reluctant to enforce the capital punishment. What will become of these prisoners is not clear, and Addison now shares their uncertain future. New Hampshire’s new law substitutes the death sentence for one of life without the possibility of parole, but the bill was not made retroactive. Addison, convicted of killing a cop in 2006, thus remains on the slate for execution; however, the state lacks the means or a plan to carry it out. The last time New Hampshire put someone to death was in 1939. 

Republicans have typically favored capital punishment as the ultimate justice for victims and their relatives, arguing that, in the words of Sununu, “it is the right thing to do.” That position has eroded in recent years as family and friends of murder victims have testified that the long process of putting the killer to death brought them no closure and only lengthened their grief. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed financial concerns in addition to ethical ones. The costs involved in pursuing capital punishment often far exceed those of lifelong incarceration. Condemning Addison presented New Hampshire taxpayers with a $2.5 million bill. 

Opposition has also come from an unlikely corner – the pharmaceutical companies whose products are used in the lethal injection cocktail. Such firms have recently refused to sell the required drugs for the purpose of execution. Rather than capitulate, states have considered reverting to options like firing squads and electric chairs. In the Deep South, at least, the death penalty remains as certain as taxes. 

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Sources: washingtonpost.com, npr.org

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