Friday, April 24, 2009

Hang 'Em High



The NH House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 556; a bill calling for the repeal of the death penalty. On April 14, the NH Senate Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard public testimony on the bill. They heard 3 hours of testimony. It was one of the best run hearings I’ve ever attended. Committee Chair Deb Reynolds was kind and empathetic, and treated everyone with respect, regardless of their position on the issue. She managed to very kindly move the repetitious speakers right along. It was unlike senate hearings I’ve attended in years gone by, where senators felt free to actually yell at members of the public, whilst they gave testimony. The Democratic majority has made for far more civil behavior.

Senator Reynolds also deviated from custom by asking Representatives who were there to either support or speak against the bill to wait until members of the public had their say. This was an extremely polite and respectful gesture, and one I’d never experienced.

Most of the cops who testified were from Manchester. This really isn’t about the death penalty for them, this is about killing Michael Addison, who killed Officer Michael Briggs of the Manchester PD. Manchester Police Chief David Mara said that if Briggs isn’t executed, he’d live the life of a rock star in prison. Apparently Chief Mara has never been to a prison. It ain’t exactly Carnegie Hall.

It was hard not to cry along with Michael Brigg’s mother, as she testified about losing her son. It was hard not to cry along with State Rep. Robert Cushing Jr., as he spoke about his father’s murder. It was hard not to cry as Bess Claussen Landis, who testified about her mother being beaten, raped, and killed one day while Bess and her sisters were at school. The family members of murder victims offered powerful testimony.

Manchester Lieutenant Nick Willard was angry with the legislators who dared to put this bill forward, and clearly offended at anyone who dare disagree with his position, which was, “I find this to be a slap in the face.” Willard seems to think that the death penalty is how a state shows support and respect for law enforcement. HB 556 could be sent to a study committee, and Willard essentially said, have the study committee, let us kill Addison, and THEN repeal the death penalty. Willard’s testimony illustrates one reason why there should be no death penalty. Angry people make decisions based on vengeance – and make no mistake, vengeance is what the death penalty is all about. Primal, eye for an eye style vengeance.

Rich white people don’t die on death row. Most people who are executed in the United States are poor people of color. Some of the folks speaking against HB 556 attempted to prove that NH is different, and even though we’re going to execute a poor black man, it’s different in NH. No one really addressed the fact that NH has had 2 capital cases recently. Rich, white murderer John Brooks didn’t get the death penalty.

The most gripping testimony of the afternoon came from Curtis McCarty, who spent 21 years in prison for murder, 16 of them on death row. He was exonerated in 2007 by DNA evidence. The room was completely silent as Curtis spoke - and he spoke with great respect for law enforcement, and a remarkable lack of bitterness. He also pointed out how painful this was for the family of the victim. They spent 21 years hating him and wishing him dead, only to find out that they'd hated the wrong guy. So much for the healing and closure the death penalty is supposed to provide.

Given the oft-expressed GOP fears about keeping costs low in the state, I wonder at their support for the death penalty. I haven’t heard a single Republican legislator address the cost factor. Why is that? Would the support change if property taxes were increased to pay for it?

NH does not have a death chamber. The Dept. of Corrections apparently has a plan for building one, to the tune of $1.7 million, but it is not as yet in a budget. We will also have to hire an execution team. NH law does not require that the team be comprised of licensed doctors or nurses. This is good news, since assisting in an execution would seem to go against the credo of the medical profession. Still, there will have to be an execution team to administer the lethal injection. Arnie Alpert of the NH American Friends Service Committee wondered about this in his HB 556 testimony. “Will they be state employees, subject to collective bargaining?” Alpert asked.

The state has already spent $3 million on the Brooks and Addison cases. The Addison case will cost millions more. How many millions? There is no way to know. The appeals process is lengthy and costly. This is why the pro-death penalty advocates don’t talk about the cost. It’s going to be enormous – just to kill one guy. Meanwhile, our state has a waiting list for people with developmental disabilities to receive services. Meanwhile, we don’t want to pay for educating our kids – an education that might well help prevent them from growing up to be criminals. Our priorities are skewed. Next time you run into one of your pro-death penalty local legislators, ask where the money is going to come from to kill Michael Addison.

The first executions in NH took place in 1739. It was a double hanging. Sarah Simpson and Penelope Kenny were hanged for “feloniously concealing the death of an infant bastard child.” Hangings were public spectacles, until 1868, when a riot broke out in Woodsville, after the hanging of Samuel Mills. The executions that followed were conducted on the grounds of the state prison in Concord. The last execution in NH was in 1939, when Howard Long was hanged for molesting and killing a 10-year-old boy. The state dismantled the gallows in the 1980’s. Obviously, it would be cheaper to hang Michael Addison, and why not? If we’re going to keep company with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, why not hang the guy? For that matter, why not stone him to death? That would be even cheaper, and I’m sure we could amend the statute. The Manchester cops could gather up the stones. We could have a lottery to determine who would cast the first stone. And if it were up to me, it would be mandatory for any governor who vetoed the repeal of the death penalty to be present.

“Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.” US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.


This was printed as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on April 24, 2009


©s.bruce 2009

12 comments:

DissedBelief said...

Another great article Susan. I found it ironic that Saddam Hussein, once a revered "friend" of certain politicians in this country, was eventually hanged in his own country. Not dismissing his cruelty to many of his citizens, I felt his execution rather quick, perhaps to silence him? Capital punishment generally does not bring closure to families, according to much of the literature I've read. There are families who don't know if their daughters, sons were victims of killers like Ted Bundy etc. Once they are executed, all their secrets go with them. And of course there's the innocent who have lost their lives due to poor investigative work, tainted juries, etc. And it is clearly not a deterrent.

Anonymous said...

What is the remedy for those murders who know they will be sentenced to life in prison from killing a police officer to avoid being caught? Given your logic, a person who is sentenced to life has a "free pass" to kill whomever they wish - another "life sentence" is all they will get.

You left out much of what the police from Manchester said.

susanb said...

Anonymos - the death penalty is not a deterrent. If it deters killing police officers - it isn't working. There have been 6 cops killed in NH in the last 15 years.

Are you willing to have your property taxes increased to pay to kill Michael Addison? What about an income tax - would you spring for that in order to pay for state sponsored execution?

Anonymous said...

First - thank you for posting my comment. It shows that you are not above allowing others opinions and that speaks well of you -

To put a monetary value on justice just seems unseemly to me. What is the dollar amount we as a society are willing to put on the life of a murder victim? What is the dollar amount death penalty opponents are willing to put on Officer Briggs’ life to further their agenda? How much is Michael Briggs’ life worth? How much is justice worth to us? The death penalty is supported by the majority, and we live in a democracy. Let’s be frank, death penalty opponents use the cost of death penalty to appeal to the masses, to the everyday citizen, in an effort to garner support for their anti-death penalty position. It is ingenious angle in that money speaks loudly to people, particularly given the state of affairs of today, but it is not less disingenuous. However, I echo my previous question – what is the price of justice? Is justice worth a million dollars, two million – what is the monetary cap that we are willing to place on justice – particularly given the wasteful spending that rampant in government?

I can fully understand the moral fight against the death penalty. There is a paradox within law enforcement – in that they swear an oath to protect life, yet may be placed in situations, both on the street or in the courtroom in which we play a role in the taking of life. Questioning ones self is understandable. However, I can not accept the monetary argument that is too frequently made as a reason why the death penalty should be abolished. Again, to do so my view is unseemly. In my opinion our laws and our justice system are the cornerstone of our country’s greatness, and we should never put a price tag on that – to do so is terribly wrong and risks perverting our judicial system.

Anonymous said...

Is the death penalty a deterrent? Although there have been six officers killed in the line duty while the death penalty has been on the books, that does not support the fact that it could have been twelve officers killed during that time period. I do not know, nor do you or any of the experts that like to intimate that the death penalty does not deter murder.

Ernest van den Haag, a Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University who has studied the question of deterrence closely, wrote: "Even though statistical demonstrations are not conclusive, and perhaps cannot be, capital punishment is likely to deter more than other punishments because people fear death more than anything else. They fear most death deliberately inflicted by law and scheduled by the courts. Whatever people fear most is likely to deter most. Hence, the threat of the death penalty may deter some murderers who otherwise might not have been deterred. And surely the death penalty is the only penalty that could deter prisoners already serving a life sentence and tempted to kill a guard, or offenders about to be arrested and facing a life sentence. Perhaps they will not be deterred. But they would certainly not be deterred by anything else. We owe all the protection we can give to law enforcers exposed to special risks."

Finally, the death penalty certainly "deters" the murderer who is executed. Strictly speaking, this is a form of incapacitation, similar to the way a robber put in prison is prevented from robbing on the streets. Vicious murderers must be killed to prevent them from murdering again, either in prison, or in society if they should get out. Both as a deterrent and as a form of permanent incapacitation, the death penalty helps to prevent future crime.

susanb said...

It would be nice if you anonymouses at least add numbers to your status, so I'd know if you are the same or different people.

I don't have a whole lot of time for this, but - anonymous 1 - I use the financial argument because it hits people where they live. NH is a state that hates to pay for anything. I have not yet heard anyone, and that includes you, answer the question of where the money is coming from to kill Michael Addison.

Why is Michael Briggs life worth more than that of anyone else? Why didn't John Brooks get the death penalty? (Hint: rich white guys don't get the death penalty.)

And if this is all about protecting law enforcement, how do those poor cops manage to even go to work in states that don't kill their residents?

The death penalty is a barbaric custom. It puts us in the same category as other human rights violators, like China, Pakistan, and Iran. Our system of justice badly needs an overhaul.

I don't buy the deterrent argument. Spending $22 million to make sure a person who will never get out of prison doesn't kill again is just hyperbole.

Most people kill in the heat of the moment. They don't give a flying fig for the consequences at the time. Those who plan it out think they're too smart to get caught. As for the prison guard argument, please tell me how many NH prison guards have been killed on the job. It's a bullshit argument. The prisons are filled with lesser murderers who might kill guards, but you aren't bleating away about that.

I wish just one of you would have the decency to tell the truth. This is all about vengeance. This is all about killing Michael Addison. This is the Manchester mafia holding sway over the rest of the state.

Anonymous said...

My apologies, Ms. Bruce, I did not mean to leave the impression that the posts were from different people. My name is Max Strong and I left the two comments. I did so anonymously simply because I did not wish to leave my email address, sorry for that. I will also say that I will not comment on your blog further, as it appears I have upset you and that is/was not my intent. I simply found your blog and have an opinion as to this particular post of yours.

Again, I did not mean to upset anyone, but saying something is bullshit and insinuating that I am perpetrating a lie would indicate that I have done just that – upset you. Quickly, you make my point for me when you state, “I use the financial argument because it hits people where they live. NH is a state that hates to pay for anything. I have not yet heard anyone, and that includes you, answer the question of where the money is coming from to kill Michael Addison.” Money resonates with people who may be on the fence as to the effectiveness of the death penalty so you might as well win them over that why – again, ingenious but no less disingenuous. How much of that money you speak of is driven up due the defense attorneys and the defense lawyers who are notoriously oppose to the death penalty. They drive up the cost and drive home your argument. As for killing Addison – he admitted to killing the officer and a jury found him guilty. By assuming, as you do that it is simply because he is black tells me that you do not know the fact pattern of the Addison and Brooks cases, so for you to boil it down solely to race – well, that’s racist in my view. Again, I do not mean to upset you, but to see everything in life by the color of another’s skin is racist and that appears to me what you see as the difference between the two cases when in reality that could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, you asked for about corrections officers being killed by inmates – here is a quick fact:

The walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial contain the names of 528 correctional officers who have died in the line of duty. These numbers reflect REAL people; murder victims like Donna Fitzgerald, 51, who was assaulted and killed on June 25 by an inmate while on duty at the Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Florida. Just five days earlier, on June 20, Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, 22, was stabbed to death by two inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California. I suggest to you that it is more likely that a person serving life for a murder is more likely to kill again that a person being sentenced to death.

When all is said and done, I fully respect the “sanctity of life” position on the death penalty. I can also fully grasp that it should be outlawed because it is “barbaric” and against human nature to take a life – I struggle with those reasons myself. But when it comes to something as simple giving someone a free pass to kill whenever they want because there is no consequence to it other than being moved to another prison – I have to ask myself what else can we do? The death penalty is about all I can come up with.

I will leave you with this – Officer Ralph Miller was killed by Cleo Roy in 1976. Roy was sentence to life, while in jail (in another state) he killed another inmate. He continues to serve his life sentence unimpeded by other consequences.

Strongman

susanb said...

Max,

I'm not upset. I may be a little annoyed with a barrage of anonymouses, and even more annoyed by the fact that you aren't answering some of my questions honestly - but kindly don't try to pin emotions on me.

You still have not answered where the money is going to come from to kill Michael Addison.

I asked you how many NEW HAMPSHIRE corrections officers have been killed on the job. You chose to answer that question in a way that makes YOUR case. You can see where I might be finding you a trifle annoying.

Even a cursory look at the facts about the death penalty will show you that it is not applied with any kind of equality. Poor people of color die. Rich white people do not. That is the way it is, and accusing me of racism may make you feel better, but it's painfully dishonest, and pretty stupid.

I notice you chose not to discuss the fact that the death penalty puts the United States in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. All known human rights violators. I can see why you'd want to skip over that - but this is another instance of your picking and choosing, selective answering, and all round disingenuousness.

I'm betting you're from Manchester, and you're probably a cop.

Anonymous said...

I told said I would not post more comments, yet here I go. Answers to your questions – admittedly, I do not have all of the answers. Simply opinions. Where will the money come to fulfill Addison’s sentence will come from the tax payers, as will the tab to feed him, clothes him, provide medical care, an education, recreation and the like. The taxpayers will pay for everything associated with Addison – a predicament he himself stuck on all of us. I’m not sure where you keep pulling the $22 million from, but you know the answer to the question and your point in crystal clear – again, no less disengenoues though.
As ot your question about how many corrections officer in New Hampshire has been killed – one. JUST one:

Officer Prescott was a guard at the Rockingham County House of Corrections for two weeks. He was also a Newmarket Police Officer and a former University of New Hampshire Campus Police Officer. He was a member of the United States Air Force and attended Dover High School. He was a resident of Newmarket and a member of the American Legion.

On September 12, 1971, Corrections Officer Prescott was on duty at the Rockingham County Jail when prisoner Lawrence Conklin, using a makeshift knife, stabbed him to death. Officer Prescott died from his injuries before he reached Exeter Hospital. He was twenty-seven years old. To me, one life is enough – I’m sure we can both agree on that. I hope ONLY one death does not make YOUR point. To me, that is enough.

You did not ask me a question about race, you just called me stupid. I’m not sure that name calling really provides much insight, but I stand by my statement – if you knew the facts of the cases and did not just see black and white as you suggested is the case in ADDISON and BROOKS, you would not have made such an irresponsible remark. I will call it that and not racism. Clearly you don’t take me as the sort, so for that I apologize. Too many people see color and not the facts or circumstances. As for nationally, I will agree with your completely that it is applied disproportionally along economic and racial lines, but you reference Addison and Brooks and do so is completely irresponsible. I am sure we are both appalled at the application of the death penalty in some states.

As to your last question about being lumped in with the likes of China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran – Okay? Your point is what? We each of the death penalty as a means of punishment? Aside from that, we are far removed from the abuses they inflict on their citizens – but be careful about being so high minded when it comes to these countries. I am sure that if I crawled through your life and your belongings, I would find something of yours made in China or perhaps the petroleum products you use are some how derived from Saudi Arabia. We as a country do more to subject the citizens of those countries to abuse by our every day practices than the fact that a little over half of the states in the union have a death penalty option as punishment. I may be stupid, as you have called me, but even I can see that.

Finally, I am not from Manchester, but close enough – a city a little father north. I run many circles, one of which just happens to be many police officers (you seem to dislike them, but I must say some are good people, some are not like everything else), but you would be surprised to know that a few of my real good buddies are defense attorneys. Don’t hate me and call me names for my opinion, just respect them and try to enlighten me as best you can.

As for the death penalty itself – frankly, I am still on the fence about the issue. Even as I write all that I have, I’m not sure what to think of it. All deaths at the hand of another is barbaric to me – that means Addison killing Briggs and the state executing Addison. Godspeed Ms. Bruce. I think perhaps you have encouraged me to create my own blog.

susanb said...

The $22 million figure is based on research. I've done actual research into the costs of execution in other states. Averaged out, the cost of executing one individual seems to be about $22 million dollars.
Many states, by the way, are eliminating the death penalty because it is so expensive. They're choosing to put that money into putting more police officers on the streets, and solving cold cases. I find that to be a far better use of resources.

As you would know, if you did even a cursory amount of research, life imprisonment is cheaper than execution.

It's amusing that you can call me a racist, and get all offended when I tell you your remark was stupid. Not you, YOUR COMMENT. This is yet another unfortunate incidence of your dishonesty in our discussion .

By far and away the greatest dishonesty you have perpetuated was your assertion that I "seem" to dislike cops. I never said anything of the sort, never even inferred it - but it's very much like you trying to attach some kind of emotion to me.

I'm officially finished with you. I don't play games, and I don't truckle with liars.

Anonymous said...

You do “seem” to dislike cops, as evidenced by your quotes below:

“Most of the cops who testified were from Manchester. This really isn’t about the death penalty for them, this is about killing Michael Addison, who killed Officer Michael Briggs of the Manchester PD.”

“The Manchester cops could gather up the stones.”

“Why is Michael Briggs life worth more than that of anyone else?”

“And if this is all about protecting law enforcement, how do those poor cops manage to even go to work in states that don't kill their residents?”

“This is the Manchester mafia holding sway over the rest of the state.” I could be wrong here, but it appears that you are referring to Manchester cops as the Mafia. I may be wrong, but that is what I took from it.

“I'm betting you're from Manchester, and you're probably a cop.” Probably a cop would lead me to believe that you have a degree of distaste. I may be wrong again, but if that is how I read you, then it is not a perpetuated untruth.

Again, do not hate me for my opinion, it is what I believe I see – that you seem to dislike cops. To say it is a “great dishonesty” is a little over the top. I promise, this is my last comment. I just created a Blog of my own and posted my first or what I hope to be many more “thoughts and opinions of mine. The first is my inspiration to do so – you. I mean that with respect. Regardless of our tones, I wish you good health.

Strongman

susanb said...

You do “seem” to dislike cops, as evidenced by your quotes below:

“Most of the cops who testified were from Manchester. This really isn’t about the death penalty for them, this is about killing Michael Addison, who killed Officer Michael Briggs of the Manchester PD.”
This was reporting what I observed at the hearing. No emotion (and how desperate you are to affix emotion to my statements.)

“The Manchester cops could gather up the stones.”And the dislike is....where?

“Why is Michael Briggs life worth more than that of anyone else?”Asking a perfectly logical question indicates dislike?
Seriously - would you try this crap with a man?

“And if this is all about protecting law enforcement, how do those poor cops manage to even go to work in states that don't kill their residents?”

Again - a question. A non-emotional question. More crap.

“This is the Manchester mafia holding sway over the rest of the state.” I could be wrong here, but it appears that you are referring to Manchester cops as the Mafia. I may be wrong, but that is what I took from it.I'm not surprised. You don't seem to be able to read what is actually written. Manchester, City of, is a sort of mafia that runs the entire state.

“I'm betting you're from Manchester, and you're probably a cop.” Probably a cop would lead me to believe that you have a degree of distaste. I may be wrong again, but if that is how I read you, then it is not a perpetuated untruth.More dishonesty. It didn't take Dick Tracy to figure out that you were from Manchester - your IP address was a giveaway. As for guessing you were a cop - given the interest that the Manchester police have in killing Michael Addison, it was a logical possibility. One that didn't have any kind of emotion attached to it.

I'm afraid you've failed in your ridiculous attempt to prove your silly thesis. Go away now.