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Oklahoma death chamber, Wikimedia commons

New Hampshire yesterday became the 21st state in the USA to officially abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill ending capital punishment. As of today, not a single state in New England has the death penalty. The New Hampshire state House voted last week to override, and the 16-8 override vote in the Senate Thursday was exactly the two-thirds majority needed to overcome the veto. The ban on further executions becomes effective immediately, but does not apply to the only inmate on death row in the state, Michael Addison, who in 2006 was sentenced to die for murdering Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.

Death penalty supporters were quick to fearmonger that Addison would surely have his sentence undone in future litigation. Republican state Sen. Sharon Carson fretted such an outcome was inevitable, and that the repeal is really a shame since New Hampshire had a really good, humane, careful law for killing bad people through the power of the state:


"If you think you're passing this today and Mr. Addison is still going to remain on death row, you are confused [...] Mr. Addison's sentence will be converted to life in prison."

Carson argued that New Hampshire has a narrowly drawn law and a careful, deliberative process to ensure innocent people are not executed.

"This is not Louisiana of the 1920s where Old Sparky was put on a flatbed truck and driven from prison to prison and people were executed. We are not those people," she said. "That doesn't happen here in New Hampshire."

Sununu, who made a point of vetoing the repeal while surrounded by cops at a community center named for Briggs, issued a statement emphasizing that nobody can simultaneously support law enforcement and oppose state-sanctioned killing:

I have consistently stood with law enforcement, families of crime victims, and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty because it is the right thing to do.

We suppose this is where we remind y'all that we know murderers often do horrible things and that victims and their families suffer terribly, and then we add that it's possible to recognize that fact and to oppose the state killing people. Particularly since at least 4.1 percent of death row convicts are innocent, not to mention the huge racial disparity in who gets sentenced to die.

In reality, however, the repeal was largely symbolic for the Granite State, even in Addison's case, as the Washington Post points out:

New Hampshire has neither an active death penalty system nor any executions on the horizon. The state has only one person on death row [..] and last carried out an execution in 1939.

Addison also does not face imminent execution, as corrections officials have said they do not have any lethal injection drugs or any plan to get them.

The Death Penalty Information Center notes that New Hampshire doesn't even have an execution chamber (which is why our pic up top is from Oklahoma), and that in 2010, the state Department of Corrections "estimated that building an execution chamber would cost about $1.7 million" -- money the legislature never authorized. So the prospects of executing Addison were largely theoretical anyway.

Activists have been trying for decades to end New Hampshire's death penalty; former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a repeal bill in 2000, and in 2018, Sununu vetoed a repeal bill, too. The Senate fell just two votes short of overriding the veto that time around.

The override vote yesterday was bipartisan on both sides:

Twelve Democrats and four Republicans supported ending the death penalty, while six Republicans and two Democrats voted to keep it. The latter included Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, who represents the district in which Officer Briggs was killed. He urged his colleagues to remember law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.

"I can't abandon these people," he said. "These people are there for us. They're there for us, and I believe strongly we have to support them."

One of the Republicans who vote for repeal and for the override, state Sen. Bob Giuda, said capital punishment doesn't fit with his "pro-life" principles, so we'll give him credit for consistency on that at least:

He called execution a "ghastly" process and urged his colleagues to "move our civilization" past it.

"I think we're better than that," he said. "I choose to move our state forward to remove the death penalty."

Among the 29 states that still have capital punishment on the books, two governors (in California and Pennsylvania) have declared moratoriums on executions, while North Carolina's death penalty has been on hold following a court order, and Wyoming just plain doesn't have any inmates on death row. WaPo adds the states that want to continue killing people because God and justice demand blood have seen a number of logistical problems in recent years:

Some states have continued to regularly carry out executions — including Texas, Florida, Alabama and Georgia — but others seeking to do so have struggled to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injections. Pharmaceutical firms have resisted having their products used in executions, leading to what is effectively a shortage, prompting lawmakers to debate or adopt other execution methods, such as the electric chair, nitrogen gas or the firing squad.

It's sort of like that Jeff Goldblum line, huh? Death ... finds a way.

[AP via ABC News / WaPo / New Hampshire Public Radio / Death Penalty Information Center / Innocence Project]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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