Bill Would Expand N.H.'s Death Penalty, Adding Murder of Minor to Eligible Offenses

Jan 31, 2017

Credit Daniel S. Hurd via Flickr CC

  State lawmakers will consider a bill this year that would make anyone convicted of killing a minor eligible for the death penalty.

New Hampshire is the only state in New England with capital punishment still on the books, though the state hasn’t put anyone to death since 1939.

Republican State Representative Werner Horn of Franklin is the prime sponsor of a bill that seeks to expand the state’s death penalty law by including the murder of anyone under the age of 18 as an eligible offense.

NHPR reached out to Gov. Chris Sununu for his position on the legislation. A spokesman said, "The governor generally supports the death penalty, but will obviously need to see the final language specific fo this bill."

Rep. Horn to NHPR’s Morning Edition about his proposal.

The state already has a narrow list of capital murder offenses that are eligible for the death penalty, including the killing of a police officer and murder committed for hire, among other offenses.

Why add the murder of a minor to that list?

As I was completing my first term as a state rep, there were a number of stories in the news about children, toddlers in this instance, having been killed by people that weren’t related to them. And a huge sense of injustice reared up. If they’re going to demonstrate such a terrible lack of regard for human life, then they should be repaid in kind.

When you are talking about persons 18 and under, there are going to be some questions about fetal homicide.

My law strictly defines the victims as persons under the age of 18. This has nothing to do with fetal homicide. Fetal homicide is a separate bill coming through the House and should receive its own consideration separate from this bill.

Why do you support the death penalty in general?

Taking of a human life is the absolute worst thing someone can do because once that life’s extinguished, it’s never coming back. To me, there’s no justifiable reason to have someone who’s demonstrated a willingness to do that to be allowed to stick around.

Opponents point to a lack of evidence that capital punishment deters crime. There’s data showing murder rates are higher in states with the death penalty.

And there’s the fact that taking a life is irrevocable. According to the ACLU, more than 140 people have been let off death row after they were found to be innocent.

What’s your response to those arguments?

The bill that I’m proposing doesn’t make it compulsory, so there’s still prosecutorial discretion. Because the death penalty is on the books doesn’t imply that a state prosecutor would reach for the death penalty.

So you’re saying this should be an option in some cases?

Absolutely. The bill does not say this is a perfect system. The bill does not say this works 100 percent of the time. If there are problems with our system, evidence based, if there are problems with our system in the conviction rate, those are issues that should be addressed specifically. We can’t stay away from providing a penalty for a crime just because we’re afraid the system isn’t perfect.

There’s also the cost factor. In reviewing your bill, the state judicial council says it would need more money for capital murder cases, possibly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for the prospect of additional hearings and multiple appeals.

It also notes the state has already spent more than $3 million in the case of Michael Addison, who remains on death row as he continues to appeal his sentence for the murder of a Manchester police officer in 2006.

Can you make an argument that’s money well spent?

No, I can’t make that argument. I wouldn’t even try to make that argument because I don’t have any background in economic or finance, so it would be a blind statement about my willingness to spend the money  and that’s not fair, that’s not something I’m ever going to do. I am a big believer that where there’s a will there’s a way. If that money needs to be found, I’m very confident that we can find it in a responsible way.

Efforts to repeal the state’s death penalty have failed in the past. Do you think there is support for expanding the death penalty?

Sure. Everbody’s got an opinion. There are four hundred of us in the House. There’s always going to be somebody in favor of expanding the death penalty. I’ve reached out to a couple of Democratic Senators whose support whose support could be crucial to get passage in the Senate. I am encouraged by what I’ve heard from the Senate side, and what I’ve heard on the criminal justice side.