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N.H. expands death penalty after brutal attack on family

BILL BECOMES LAW “I believe strongly that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is warranted,” Governor John Lynch said. BILL BECOMES LAW
“I believe strongly that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is warranted,” Governor John Lynch said.
By Norma Love
Associated Press / June 29, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — Governor John Lynch signed a bill yesterday expanding the state’s death penalty to cover burglaries in response to a machete and knife attack that killed a Mont Vernon woman and maimed her daughter during a home invasion.

“I believe strongly that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is warranted,’’ Lynch said in a statement. “As a state, we’ve used our death penalty statute judiciously and cautiously, as is appropriate.

“But there are some horrific crimes that are not currently covered under our capital murder statute,’’ he said.

House Speaker William O’Brien sponsored the bill and named it after Kimberly Cates of Mont Vernon, which is O’Brien’s hometown. Cates was hacked to death in her bed, and her 11-year-old daughter was maimed in the Oct. 4, 2009, home invasion. Cates’s husband, David, was in Lynch’s office at yesterday’s private bill signing.

Cates testified in support of the bill, though he said he was not seeking vengeance, since the law change would not apply in his wife’s case. The new law takes effect Friday and allows capital punishment for killings committed during burglaries of occupied buildings.

“It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy like the Kimberly Cates murder to bring this common-sense, measured, and responsible expansion of the New Hampshire death penalty statute,’’ O’Brien said. “Our homes are our sanctuary, and this was a necessary enhancement of protection for those in their homes who have the right to be safe and secure. This legislation will achieve justice for victims and allow for deterrence to those who would enter the homes of others to murder them.’’

Steven Spader was convicted of Cates’s murder last year and sentenced to life without parole. His codefendant, Christopher Gribble, admitted to taking part in the attacks, but tried unsuccessfully to convince the jury that he was insane at the time. He was sentenced to life without parole. Three others were sentenced for lesser crimes.

They could not have faced the death penalty in the 2009 attack because the crime does not fall into one of six types of murders punishable by death under New Hampshire’s statute.

The six are: killing an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge; murder for hire; murder committed in connection with a kidnapping; murder committed during rape; murder committed during certain drug offenses; and murder committed by a convict already serving a sentence of life without parole.

New Hampshire rarely approves expansions to the law. The last, in 1994, was the addition of killing a judge. Three people have been charged with capital murder in more than a dozen years. Two men are serving sentences of life without parole and the third is on death row for killing a police officer. In its 380-year history, New Hampshire has executed 24 people, none since 1939.