Death penalty repeal appears poised to pass New Hampshire state Senate

By Adam Sexton, Political Director, WMUR

A repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty is poised to pass the state Senate for the first time in almost 20 years, but there are concerns that the bill could overturn the capital sentence of the state’s only death row inmate.

Thirteen state senators have signed on to a bill to repeal the death penalty, so it has enough votes to pass the Senate. One of the key Republicans who support the bill, Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said Monday that it’s time to abolish capital punishment.

“If we execute somebody that is innocent, their blood is on our hands, and I believe, biblically, that is a tragedy,” he said.

Law enforcement officials said they’re staunchly opposed to repeal. Police said they believe the death penalty is a deterrent to criminals and protects police officers’ lives.

“Listen, as police officers, we want to be sure somebody’s got our backs,” said Steve Arnold of the New England Police Benevolent Association. “We’ve got the backs of our citizens, and we just can’t have people killing cops.”

There are concerns that SB 593, while prospective in nature, will have the effect of overturning the capital sentence of Michael Addison, New Hampshire’s lone death row inmate.

“Everywhere where the courts have ruled in the last few years, they’ve said once you repeal the death penalty, anyone who’s on death row gets off of it,” former state Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas said.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald issued a memo to the Senate Judiciary Committee agreeing that a repeal of the death penalty would likely take Addison off death row.

A former death row inmate from Illinois testified in support of the bill, saying that he’s living proof that wrongful convictions happen.

“If it hadn’t been for an honest state police officer all those years later, I’d be dead or still in prison,” exonerated inmate Randy Steidl said.

Steidl said he spent 17 years on death row for murder in Illinois before proving his innocence.

“If you really want to punish a vicious killer, you put them in a cage for the rest of their lives and make them think about the crimes they’ve committed,” he said. “If they don’t repent to God before they die, they burn in hell. That’s justice. At least you don’t risk the possibility of executing an innocent person.”

Originally published 03.12.2018 by WMUR