Sununu Vetoes Death Penalty Repeal; Activists Hope To Override

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The gallery in Representatives Hall was crowded on March 7. Arnie Alpert, co-director of the American Friends Service Committee, and Barbara Keshen, chair of the NH Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty, are pictured in the front row the day the House voted for repeal. PAULA TRACY photo

Concord, NH – Despite veto-proof majorities supporting death penalty repeal in the NH House and Senate, and despite a chorus of voices from the NH criminal justice and murder victim family member communities and the growing pro-repeal movement from conservatives around the country, Governor Sununu today vetoed HB 455.

The Associated Press reported that Sununu vetoed HB 455 Friday at the community center in Manchester named after Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs who was shot to death by Michael Addison in 2006. Addison is New Hampshire’s only death row inmate.

The Associated Press quoted Sununu: “This is common sense. New Hampshire has always exercised great prudence, great responsibility in its application of the death penalty. I firmly see, along with many folks across the state, this bill is an injustice not just to Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and other victims of violent crime across the state.

“I cannot thank those standing behind me enough. They put their lives on the line every single day. Every day they walk out that door and put their lives on the line. They don’t ask a whole lot, but they do ask for our support.”

Barbara Keshen, the Chair of the Board of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP), had this to say about today’s veto:

“This year, the New Hampshire Legislature has voted with strong bipartisan support to repeal the death sentence for capital murder and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Maintaining the death penalty in our state, even if infrequently used, makes us complicit in the bias and corruption of the death penalty system nationwide, where one out of every 10 of those put on death row are later exonerated. 95% of the nearly 130 witnesses testifying before House and Senate committees this year spoke in favor of repealing the death penalty.

The Legislature clearly heard this call, responding with overwhelming majorities to end this costly, inhumane, error-prone, and ultimately unnecessary punishment. We call on our elected representatives to once again stand on their principles and uphold the will of the Legislature and the people of New Hampshire, and to join the rest of the New England states and all other developed Western nations, in abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire.”

The NH House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill later this month, which will require a 2/3 majority of those present and voting in order to override the veto. If the override is successful in the House, the bill will move over to the Senate for a vote.

NHCADP is comprised of 25 organizational members and over 2000 individual members who have been working since 1999 to end the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Gov. Sununu’s news release

Today, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed HB 455, relative to the penalty for capital murder, at the Michael Briggs Community Center at the Manchester Police Athletic League, surrounded by law enforcement, the family of the late officer Michael Briggs, and advocates for justice.

“New Hampshire has always shown prudence and responsibility in its application of the death penalty,” said Governor Chris Sununu.  “This bill is an injustice to not only Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and victims of violent crime around the state. God Bless Officer Briggs and his family.”

“I want to thank the Governor on behalf of the law enforcement community for his commitment for men and women in blue,” said Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano at today’s ceremony. “It’s important the that Governor is here today in Manchester for this event, he’s standing just two blocks from where Officer Michael Briggs answered his last call. For your support Governor, I want to thank you and on behalf on this entire room I want to thank you for the commitment and everything you’ve done for law enforcement, we can’t tell you how much we appreciate that.”

“Governor Sununu, we in New Hampshire law enforcement want to thank you for standing with us and the citizens of New Hampshire, on our behalf and with signing the veto this morning on this repeal bill,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff James Hardy at today’s ceremony. “I respectfully ask on behalf of New Hampshire law enforcement officers that the legislators, the member of House and Senate respectfully take a second look at the issue and maintain the current law.

“New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the country, and we’d like to keep it that way,” said Marc Beaudoin, President of the New Hampshire Troopers Association at today’s ceremony. “We support Governor Sununu in his effort to maintain the safety here in the State and we stand behind him one hundred percent.”

 A copy of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto message can be found here. A copy of the HB 455 can be found here, and the full video of today’s veto ceremony can be watched here. A copy of an open letter to the Citizens of New Hampshire from Patrick Cheetham, Past President of the New Hampshire Police Association can be read here.

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