But will they listen?
If legislators are looking for an expensive, ineffective government program to eliminate, they can start with the death penalty. That was one point made by Dwight Haynes this afternoon before the NH Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering legislation to add homicide committed in the course of a “home invasion” to the list of crimes punishable by execution. Most of the witnesses agreed.
Numerous speakers, including Sr. Helen Prejean and local clergy members, relatives of homicide victims, members of the Death Penalty Study Commission, Amnesty International members, civil libertarians and others drew on theology, psychology and fiscal responsibility to clearly outline why the legislation takes the state in the wrong direction.
The minority viewpoint in the room was a loud one; the death penalty expansion bill is sponsored by Speaker of the House William O’Brien, who represents the town of Mont Vernon, where the horrific murder of Kimberly Cates took place. The bill, HB 147, has already passed in O’Brien’s House.
Several speakers explained the problem of labeling certain crimes so heinous that the perpetrators should be killed. Brutal and senseless as the Cates murder may have been, there’s really no objective standard for “heinousness.” And if home invasion homicide gets added to the capital murder statute this year, another heinous murder in a category outside the scope of the capital murder statute could happen next year. The murder of a child. The murder of a firefighter. “How will you ever know when to stop?,” asked Sister Helen.
“The essence of the act is that we have now killed the person who killed another person,” she said. After that, “ask what have we done?”
Margaret Hawthorne, whose daughter Molly was murdered in her own own last year, said Molly “would not want anyone killed in her name.”
Sen. Jim Luther, an evangelical pastor from Nashua, asked several speakers questions about the scriptural basis of their claims that the death penalty is not theologically sound and the scholarly basis of their claims that the death penalty does not deter murder. If he listened to the clear, thoughtful responses, and reads the material he will receive from death penalty opponents, perhaps he’ll conclude expanding the death penalty is not good public policy. His vote will be interesting one to watch.