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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Death penalty opponents hopeful new crop of lawmakers will support abolishing law

CONCORD – If anyone was likely to be in favor of capital punishment, it would be Renny Cushing.

Cushing’s father, Robert Cushing Sr., was murdered in 1988. And last year, Cushing’s brother-in-law, Stephen McRedmond, was killed in Nashville, Tenn. ...

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CONCORD – If anyone was likely to be in favor of capital punishment, it would be Renny Cushing.

Cushing’s father, Robert Cushing Sr., was murdered in 1988. And last year, Cushing’s brother-in-law, Stephen McRedmond, was killed in Nashville, Tenn.

Despite these tragedies, Cushing, a Hampton Democrat who won back a state representative seat in last week’s election, is and always has been in favor of abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire, which he believes is an inevitability.

“Everyone is moving away from the death
penalty. It’s clear New Hampshire isn’t in love with the death penalty. We haven’t executed anyone since 1939,” he said. “I don’t think we want to have (laws) that mirror China and Russia.”

Even as convicted cop killer Michael Addison awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling in his death penalty case, those in favor of abolishing executions say there may be a window to do so with the election of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Hassan, and her Republican challenger Ovide Lamontagne, said before the election that they would not have signed the Kimberly Cates bill, which expanded the state’s death penalty criteria to cover home invasion murders.

A repeal bill stalled in the Legislature last year, but members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are hoping the matter will get renewed attention in the coming session.

“With Gov.-elect Hassan coming in, we’re closer than we have been in a few years,” said Raymond Bilodeau, an organizer for the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The coalition was outside the state Supreme Court before and after the Addison hearings Wednesday, holding silent vigils not in support of Addison, but against the death penalty he faces if his 2008 conviction is upheld.

Democrats gained ground in the Statehouse after the Nov. 6 election, but it’s Hassan moving into the corner office that puts death penalty opponents closer to their goal. The two previous Democratic governors, John Lynch and now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, vetoed bills that would have repealed the law.

A bill to abolish to death penalty passed the House in 2009 by a vote of 193-174, but never made it into law. Bilodeau said votes on the death penalty or its repeal rarely split along party lines. Lawmakers generally follow their conscience rather than party leadership, he said.

“This is not a party issue at all,” Bilodeau said. “We’ve always been a nonpartisan organization. What we try to do is educate all legislators about this issue.”

Cushing pointed out that it was Democrats who vetoed repeal attempts and Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, who sponsored repeal attempts in 2000. Vaillancourt has submitted a legislative services request, the precursor to a House bill, to abolish the death penalty again this year.

New Hampshire’s independent streak is another check mark in favor of repeal, Cushing said.

“New Hampshire’s a really strong libertarian state. There is a strong element in the state that doesn’t trust the government to collect taxes and plow roads,” Cushing said. “And it certainly doesn’t want to give the government the power to kill people.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).