New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission

New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission - Final Report

Individual Statement of Commissioner Renny Cushing

Dec. 1, 2010

There were a number of family members of murder victims who appeared before the Commission to share their personal experiences with homicide and the criminal justice system. They expressed their opposition, as victims, to the death penalty. As I listened to their testimony, and as I do when I listen to the experiences of any family member of a murder victim, whether they support, oppose, or have no opinion on the death penalty, I felt a sense of shared experience, empathy, and solidarity. My father, Robert Cushing, Sr., was shotgunned to death in front of my mother in our family home two decades ago. For me, thinking about what should be done after a murder happens is not just an intellectual exercise; it’s part of my life. The pain that is difficult to give words to, the emptiness and trauma, are part of my personal reality that I brought to the work of the Commission.

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NEW FROM DPIC: Video Excerpts from the International Police Forum on the Death Penalty

On October 13, officials from the U.S. and Europe held what may have been the first ever international forum of law enforcement officers on the merits of the death penalty in reducing violent crime. The officers discussed whether capital punishment actually helps to keep citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. The panelists, who included current and former police officers from the U.S. land Europe, addressed issues such as deterrence, closure to victims’ families, and costs as compared to alternative sentences.  The panel was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. You can find resources regarding the forum and video clips of the presenters' remarks on DPIC's new webpage here.

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NEW VOICES: Elie Wiesel Speaks about the Death Penalty

Elie Wiesel, acclaimed author, human rights activist, Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust survivor, spoke about his opposition to the death penalty during a lecture on capital punishment at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in October. Wiesel, who lost both parents and a sister in the Nazi death camps, focused his remarks on family members of murder victims. He said that murderers should be punished more harshly than other prisoners and encouraged the criminal justice system to focus efforts on the survivors of violent crimes "so that families will not feel cheated by the law."  "But," he said, "death is not the answer."  He said that he might change his stance if the death penalty could bring back victims. He remarked, “I know the pain of those who survive. Believe me, I know… Your wound is open. It will remain. You are mourning, and how can I not feel the pain of your mourning?  But death is not the answer.”

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STUDIES: New Hampshire Commission Holds Public Hearing on Death Penalty

The New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty held a hearing on September 16 at Keene State College, inviting the public to share their views on whether the state should repeal the death penalty. Among those testifying were a retired police chief, a former prisoner, and the mother of a murder victim, all of whom spoke against capital punishment. Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter was murdered last April, told the Commission that she did not want her daughter’s killer to be put to death. “The best possible outcome for me would be for there to be no more death. One was enough.” Mark Edgington, who served time in a Florida prison, said his time as an inmate changed him from a supporter to an opponent of capital punishment. Edgington said that in his experience the death penalty is not an effective deterrent: “Having spent 9 years in prison, let me tell you, those men don’t care about your deterrents.” Former Marlborough police chief Raymont Dodge agreed with Edgington, saying that people who commit crimes do not weigh the pros and cons beforehand. Dodge also cited wrongful convictions as a serious concern: “We can release an innocent person from jail. We cannot release an innocent person from the grave.” The Commission is scheduled to release its report to the legislature in December.

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RESOURCES: New DPIC Podcast Explores Victims' Families and the Death Penalty

The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available for download. This podcast, Victims and the Death Penalty, explores the issues faced by murder victims' families when capital punishment is being considered. Generally, this series of podcasts offers brief, informative discussions of key death penalty issues.  Other recent episodes include discussions on Representation and Race. Click here to download the latest episode of the podcast on Victims. You can also subscribe through iTunes to receive automatic updates when new episodes are posted and receive access to all eight episodes. Other audio and video resources can be found on our Multimedia page.

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NEW VOICES: Former Warden Calls Executions Traumatic for Prison Staff

Ron McAndrew, a former warden who oversaw executions on Florida's death row, recently testified at a New Hampshire hearing regarding the trauma prison staff endure during an execution. McAndrew said, “Many colleagues turned to drugs and alcohol from the pain of knowing a man had died at their hands. And I've been haunted by the men I was asked to execute in the name of the state of Florida.” The New Hampshire hearing was conducted by a legislative commission studying the effectiveness of the state’s death penalty and comparing it with a sentence of life without parole. McAndrew said he has received calls from distressed prison workers and executioners. Some corrections officers, he said, have committed suicide because of their guilt and regret. McAndrew concluded, "Being a corrections officer is supposed to be an honorable profession. The state dishonors us by putting us in this situation. This is premeditated, carefully thought out ceremonial killing."

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EDITORIALS: Life Sentence Plea Helps California Victim's Family Move On

Recently, a California man pled guilty to the 2006 murder of Highway Patrolman Earl Scott.  The defendant, Columbus Allen Jr., whose pre-trial proceedings took more than four years, will now spend the rest of his life in prison, having waived his appeals. The Stanislaus County district attorney originally sought the death penalty against Allen, but there were no guarantees that verdict would have been reached. Additionally, when the death penalty is imposed in California, years of appeals often follow, and it is not unusual for convicted murderers to outlive the family members of the murder victims. An editorial in the Modesto Bee noted that the plea will save the county over $1 million in additional expenses that would have been spent in a capital trial. Moreover, the paper noted, the emphasis can now be put on the victim, rather than on the pepetrator: "In recent years, it has seemed that Earl Scott was the forgotten victim and all the attention was on Allen, who went through multiple defense attorneys. Every time the trial was about to proceed, there would be another motion causing a delay. It was frustrating, even for those who value the process over a rush to justice. . . .[Now] Earl Scott . . . will be remembered - by his family and friends, of course, but also by his colleagues in law enforcement and by our community."  Read full editorial below.

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NEW VOICES: Retired Prosecutor Says Death Penalty Does Not Serve Families of Homicide Victims

Dan Glode, a former district attorney in Lincoln County, Oregon, recently criticized the death penalty for "the enormous expense in dollars and emotional capital [it takes] for the families of homicide victims."  Writing in the Newport News-Times, he experienced crime both as a prosecutor and as a relative of a murder victim: “The emotional cost on the families of the victim is also enormous. I have some knowledge of this, as a close relative of mine was murdered back in the 1980s. It took several years to finally catch those responsible, and I realized I just wanted it over. When they were finally tried and incarcerated, I knew I could move on. The justice system, as good or imperfect as it may be, cannot make the victim’s family whole again, but it can reduce the trauma by not dragging things out interminably. In these capital cases, the process goes on and on. Sometimes these family members have to go through additional trials if the cases get kicked back for re-trial, and the hurt begins anew. The wound never heals; it doesn’t even scar over."

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EDITORIALS: Murder Victim's Family Helps Case Settle with Life Sentence

When the student body president of the University of North Carolina, Eve Marie Carson, was murdered in 2008, both the state and the federal government initiated death penalty prosecutions against one of the defendants.  However, many of Ms. Carson's family and friends were convinced that she opposed the death penalty and would not want it sought in her case.  Family members were influential in the recent decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to accept a plea of guilty from defendant Demario Atwater in exchange for a sentence of life without parole in the federal case.  North Carolina prosecutors followed suit and accepted a similar deal.  A recent editorial in the Charlotte News & Observer noted that the family said the outcome "honors Eve's love of life and all people."  The editorial concluded: "A desire for revenge, an eye for an eye, would have been entirely understandable. Somehow, the Carsons managed to resist it in the name of their daughter. For their courage in even facing this day, they deserve the admiration of all. Their daughter was a very special person. The same may be said of those who raised her."   Read full text of article below.

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VICTIMS: Murder Victim's Family in Utah Opposes Upcoming Execution

Family members of the victim whom Ronnie Lee Gardner killed in Utah are now asking that his life be spared.  Gardner's attorneys have requested a clemency hearing and the family members of the victim, Michael Burdell, would be called to testify in favor of sparing Gardner's life.  Gardner has chosen to be executed by firing squad.  "Knowing Michael, as I did, he would not want Ronnie Lee to be executed," said Donna Nu, Burdell's former girlfriend at a court hearing recently. "Further, he would not want to be the reason Ronnie Lee is executed." Nu noted that Burdell, who was a pacifist, served in Vietnam but refused to carry a gun. Burdell's father and another friend would also testify for Gardner.  At the time of his death, Michael Burdell served as an attorney helping poor people at the courthouse.

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