When Phil McLaughlin and Greg Smith held the office of Attorney General for the State of New Hampshire, each of them supported the death penalty. No more.
McLaughlin says it’s not primarily a moral issue for him. He says what changed his mind was the reaction of juries in two cases tried simultaneously in 2008. In one, John Brooks, a white millionaire businessman, was found guilty of capital murder of Jack Reid but spared the death penalty because jurors found in him something redeeming.
Twenty-eight days later another jury “decided to kill the black kid from Dorchester,” Michael Addison, who was found guilty of the murder of Michael Briggs and sentenced to be put to death by the State on behalf of its citizens. “I will not be part of that,” McLaughlin said.
That sounds like a moral argument to me, but I have no need to argue the point.
Greg Smith, who was not able to be present, also sent a statement citing racial bias in the way the death penalty is applied as a reason for his change of heart.
For their role as advocates for death penalty repeal, the two former AGs were honored Friday with the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s annual Governor Badger Award, named for an 18th century governor who pushed for an end to capital punishment. The Badger awards, and others given to outstanding volunteers, were presented at the Coalition’s annual dinner in Concord.
Caplan began by describing how the legal process was “subverted” decades ago to bolster the constitutionality of capital punishment through the acceptance of dubious scholarship by the US Supreme Court.
Since then, legal and legislative support for executions has gradually faded. Since 2007 New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Illinois have repealed their death penalty statutes. It’s “a striking retreat” from the death penalty, Caplan says, if not an outright moratorium. A federal court ruling earlier this year in California, which declared that state’s death penalty to be unconstitutional, could prove to be another important step toward abolition, he suggested.
“In the end this is a moral issue,” Caplan said. It always has been. What is different now, he said, is “there is so much evidence about what a waste this is.”
New Hampshire’s legislature approved a repeal bill in 2000 only to have it vetoed. This year the NH House approved repeal by a two to one margin, but the measure died in the State Senate, which deadlocked 12 to 12.
Barbara Keshen, the Coalition’s chairperson, said repeal supporters have their attention on the upcoming election, in which all 400 House and 24 Senate seats are up for grabs.