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NH governor vetoes death penalty abolishment bill

The governor says the bill is an injustice to the family of a police officer who was killed by a death row inmate in 2006

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty for a second time Friday, though lawmakers are likely to override his decision in the fall.

Sununu, a Republican, vetoed the bill in Manchester, the state’s largest city, surrounded by police officers and other law enforcement officials at a community center named in honor of Officer Michael Briggs, who was shot to death in the line of duty in 2006.

“This is common sense. New Hampshire has always exercised great prudence, great responsibility in its application of the death penalty. I firmly see, along with many folks across the state, this bill is an injustice not just to Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and other victims of violent crime across the state,” Sununu said. “I cannot thank those standing behind me enough. They put their lives on the line every single day. Every day they walk out that door and put their lives on the line. They don’t ask a whole lot, but they do ask for our support.”

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies in only seven scenarios: the killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge, murder for hire, murder during a rape, certain drug offenses, or home invasion and murder by someone already serving a life sentence without parole.

The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and the repeal bill would not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Briggs and is the state’s only inmate on death row. But death penalty supporters argued courts might interpret it differently, however, giving Addison a chance at life in prison.

Londonderry Police Capt. Patrick Cheetham spoke of a recent 15-hour standoff at a Manchester hotel that ended in three deaths. One man was killed in a confrontation with law enforcement outside the hotel, while two others were found dead inside. All were wanted on drug charges.

“The violence that we see in New Hampshire, against not only New Hampshire’s police officers, but against its citizens is not going away. While we live in one of the safest states in the country, the opioid and fentanyl crisis continues to plague not only this city but the entire state,” said Cheetham, past president of the New Hampshire Police Association. “Now is not the right time to repeal the death penalty, and I stand here today supporting gov Sununu, we stand here today supporting gov Sununu and we ask that you stand with us as well.”

Briggs’ widow, Laura, attended Friday’s ceremony and spoke at a public hearing on the bill in April, in part because her son is now working in law enforcement. Other relatives of murder victims, however, testified in favor of the bill, as did retired prosecutors, clergy and former death row inmates who were exonerated and released.

Sununu, a Republican, first vetoed a death penalty repeal bill last June, and the Senate lacked the votes to override it in September. But momentum grew after Democrats won control of both the House and Senate in November, and an identical bill passed both chambers this year with more than the necessary two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Sununu told officers Friday to press lawmakers to sustain his veto.

“What the first vote was is not necessarily what the second vote will be,” he said.

Thirty states allow capital punishment, but in four of them, governors have issued moratoriums on the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Twenty states have abolished or overturned it.