Proposal makes all murders death penalty-eligible
CONCORD, N.H.—Manchester Republican Rep. Phil Greazzo believes if one murderer can face the death penalty in New Hampshire, all should be eligible for that punishment.
If it's not an option for everyone, he reasons, why have it? So he has proposed legislation to expand the state's death penalty law to include any intentional murder.
"If it's going to be too expensive to prosecute and execute every murderer, it shouldn't apply to anyone," Greazzo said. "Everyone should be treated equally under the law, even murderers."
State law currently allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty under seven circumstances. Those include the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge; murder for hire; murder committed in connection with a rape or kidnapping; murder committed during certain drug offenses; murder committed while the defendant is already serving a life sentence and murder during a burglary or home invasion.
The bill -- passed by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee 11-6 last month -- does not require prosecutors to pursue a death sentence. The House is expected to vote on the measure in January.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the kind of expansion Greazzo's bill calls for probably would be unconstitutional.
"The Supreme Court has said this is supposed to be a winnowing process of getting to the worst of the worst," Dieter said.
Dieter said the bill runs counter to a trend nationally of states backing away from capital punishment. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber last week declared a moratorium on all executions, just weeks before the scheduled execution of killer Gary Haugen. Illinois earlier this year banned executions.
"I think the states have slowed down in their expansion efforts," Dieter said. "The death penalty is no longer a political plus for people."
Greazzo, who is also a Manchester alderman, said he thinks it's appropriate that Michael Addison was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs five years ago. But he hastened to add that if Addison had missed Briggs and fatally shot a bystander he should have faced the death penalty.
Addison is the only convict on New Hampshire's death row. He would be the first person executed in New Hampshire since 1939. In its 380-year history, New Hampshire has executed 24 people.
The only other death penalty prosecution in the state in decades was that of wealthy businessman John Brooks, also in 2008. The jury that convicted him of contract murder opted for a life sentence for Brooks, who had plotted the killing of a handyman.
Gov. John Lynch in June signed legislation expanding the death penalty to killings that occur during home invasions. The "Kimberly Cates law" -- named for the woman hacked to death in a 2009 machete and knife attack that also maimed her 11-year-old daughter -- marked the first expansion of the state's death penalty law in 17 years. The killing of a judge was added to the list of eligible crimes in 1994.
Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said the governor supports the death penalty statute as it now stands. He did not respond directly to the question of making all murders death penalty-eligible.
State Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, a Concord Democrat and retired police officer, voted against the bill. Shurtleff served on the 22-member commission that spent eight months studying the state's death penalty. The committee voted 12-10 last year to retain the death penalty. Shurtleff said the committee concluded unanimously that the capital murder law should not be expanded.
Shurtleff said he is in favor of the death penalty for certain crimes, "but this bill goes beyond the pale." He said the cost of capital cases factors into his opinion.
"It sounds somewhat cold-hearted, but every time someone is charged with capital offense the charge to the state of New Hampshire is astronomical," Shurtleff said.
The state Department of Justice has said the cost of prosecuting Addison and Brooks was about $1.7 million each -- not including appeals. The Judicial Council reports that the cost to defend a capital case can easily exceed $1 million.
In 2000, both houses of the legislature voted to repeal the death penalty. Then Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill.
Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Portsmouth Democrat, said she has taken heat from some fellow Democrats for voting in favor making all murders eligible.
"You either use it for everyone or you abolish it," Pantelakos said. "I feel my child's life is just as valuable as a police officer's life."