NH lawmakers would make death penalty an option for all murder cases

By Tom Fahey, The New Hampshire Union Leader
Posted Oct. 23, 2011, at 5:33 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — The death penalty would become an option in any pre-meditated murder under a bill a House committee endorsed Thursday.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 11-6 to recommend that the House pass the measure, HB 162, when it meets in January.

The most recent change to state capital murder laws came earlier this year, when it added home invasion cases to the list of killings in which a death sentence can be ordered. The House voted in 2009 to repeal the death penalty, but the effort died in the Senate.

Current law limits capital punishment to killings of judges and law enforcement officers, those committed during rapes, kidnappings and drug deals, and those committed by someone already serving a life sentence. That would change under the bill which says, “A person is guilty of capital murder if such person purposely causes the death of another.”

Rep. Phil Greazzo, R-Manchester, sponsored HB 162, and said his bill is a matter of fairness. He said the state Constitution says all people “should be protected equally under the law.” Selecting the murder of certain people for punishment by death violates that principal, he said.

“This law needs to apply to everyone or to no one,” Greazzo said.

Rep. Roger Berube, D-Somersworth, objected to the bill.

“Just the idea that this is out there is unbelievable,” he said. Among other problems, are the certainty the state will be locked in decades of appeals. There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime, he said.

Greazzo answered that he did not file the bill as a deterrent. “It’s a matter of equality,” he said.

He pointed out that the bill does not require the seek death penalty in any case, but it gives prosecutors the option in every case of murder.

Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, said he thinks current law strikes the right balance and that life without parole is a fitting sentence in most cases.

Judges, police and others in law enforcement, he said, “are people we pay to take a bullet for us, and I think that is appropriate.”

He noted the state now has one person on death row, who would be the first to be executed since 1939. But the state has no place or person to carry out an execution. Plans to build a death chamber at the state prison carry a price tag of more than $4 million, he said.

Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, a former house of corrections superintendent, said he sees no difference in the costs of life-without-parole sentence and the legal thicket that death sentences create.

“We’re still paying no matter what,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d ever be talking the way I am now, but a life is a life is a life…

“I have to vote from here,” he added, pointing to his heart.

Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, the only Democrat to vote for the bill, said, “An eye for an eye. It’s in the Bible.”

(c)2011 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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