"Abolish the death penalty," is the editorial in today's Concord Monitor.
Last week, after a year of testimony, public hearings and careful study, the state's 22-member Commission to Study the Death Penalty issued its report. By a 12-10 vote, the commission recommended neither to abolish the death penalty nor to act on pleas to expand it, but to leave things just as they are.
After 19 meetings and many hours of testimony, few if any of the commissioners appear to have changed their minds about capital punishment. Perhaps that's not surprising, given the emotional nature of the death penalty and the legal and moral complexities involved. So despite all the commission's work, not much was learned. In fact, recent evidence in one Texas murder case sheds more light about the wisdom of the death penalty than the commission's report.
One of the many arguments against the death penalty is its arbitrary nature. The outcome of a capital case can depend on the makeup of a grand jury and its willingness to indict; the ability of a prosecutor to exclude jurors opposed to capital punishment or even queasy about it; the resources available to the defendant; and the potentially unequal skills of prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Similarly, the outcome of a study commission can be heavily influenced by its makeup. The death penalty commission's conclusion was likely foreordained by the experiences and predispositions of those chosen to serve.
Of the 12 members who voted to retain the death penalty, five are current or former police officers, one was the father of a slain police officer, five are current or former prosecutors, and one was the relative of a murder victim.
The 10 votes for abolishing the death penalty came from a retired judge, three criminal defense lawyers, an environmental lawyer, a murder victim's son, a psychotherapist, a civil rights activist, a nonprofit organization executive, and a former attorney general.
Though more than a score of death-row inmates have been found innocent in recent years, death penalty opponents have been hard-pressed to provide definitive proof that an innocent convict was executed. That no longer appears to be the case.
In Texas, a man accused of killing a liquor store clerk during a robbery was convicted based on the testimony of an accomplice and a hair sample collected at the scene. Four years after the execution of Claude Howard Jones, however, the accomplice said he lied. And last month, DNA analysis of the key hair sample proved that it did not come from Jones.
States are not infallible. A life wrongly taken by the state cannot be returned. But an innocent person serving life without parole can be freed. New Hampshire should join the states and the many nations that have progressed beyond capital punishment.
"Death penalty debate raises other concerns," is the editorial in Foster's Daily Democrat.
Commission member and former state Rep. Renny Cushing begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting was among the minority who would have preferred to eliminate the death penalty in New Hampshire.
He recently told the Portsmouth Herald that at the end of the day, the death penalty is not about those who kill, it is about society.
"We, as a society, become what we abhor: killers," said Cushing, whose father was shot to death two decades ago. "I don't want the state killing in my name."
It can be argued that it is not the state who chooses to kill. Rather that it is the killer who chooses to sacrifice his or her own life.
But philosophy aside, Cushing rightfully casts a light on the often ignored side of the death penalty.
Ending a life of a murderer, no matter who they kill, only addresses a small portion of the damage exacted on those impacted by the crime.
Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an advocacy group, is correct when he argues that the needs of victims far exceed the ability of the death penalty to address.
But Foster's Daily Democrat disagrees that offering greater help to victims needs to be an either or matter.
For some, the death penalty does provide a level of comfort, of relief, of closure. And for those never directly impacted by murder, it signals a commitment by society to go the ultimate distance in penalizing someone who wantonly kills.
Some see that as retribution. Others argue that it usurps a right that should only be left to God.
But in a Democratic republic that values separation of church and state, the latter judgment must wait for another day. Meanwhile, the immediate judgment of the commission on which Cushing serves should hold sway.