Friday, April 06, 2007

Stonings, Beheadings, Executions - Oh My!

It’s springtime, when many a not-so-young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of execution, here in NH. Last week the legislature voted down a proposal to repeal the state’s death penalty. Despite the fact that NH hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, apparently our legislators want to keep the option open, so that state sponsored murder will be available in the future.

The shooting death last year of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs brought this issue back to the table. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte told legislators that repealing the death penalty so soon after Brigg’s death would be “an insult to law enforcement officers.” Governor John Lynch said he’d veto the repeal if it passed. The state is pursuing the death penalty in the case of Michael Addison, who is accused of killing Officer Briggs. It’s the first capital case in NH in over a decade.

We can all agree that the shooting of Officer Michael Briggs was a terrible crime. By all reports he was a good cop, and a nice young man with a family. He isn’t the only person who was murdered in NH during the last 10 years. In 2004, thirteen NH women were murdered in domestic violence cases. A little over a month ago, Brenda Hewey-Barnum was murdered by the father of her child. Jacob Smith entered the home of some friends, shot and killed Hewey-Barnum, wounded one friend, and shot and stabbed his own son, Matthew Smith, before turning the gun on himself. Jacob Smith saved the state the expense of a trial. Still, if we look at history, Smith wouldn’t have faced the death penalty, since no one has for a decade – a decade that includes the murders of 13 women in 2004. The message seems clear – that some lives are worth more than others, which means that the State of NH will pursue the death penalty accordingly. If NH is going to murder its murderers, shouldn’t justice be equally applied?

This year in Colorado, the House Judiciary Committee voted to abolish the death penalty. They voted to use the savings to help solve 1200 unsolved murders in the state. During the last 3 decades, Colorado spent $40 million on the death penalty. During that time they carried out one execution. There are 2 people currently on death row in Colorado. That’s a pretty hefty price tag for just one execution. The state of New York estimates a cost of $23 million for each person sentenced to death. One murder case in Georgia has bankrupted the public defender system, which has already spent $1.4 million on the case. A 2005 report found that the state of New Jersey had spent $253 million in a 23 year period on death penalty cases – while executing no one.

Our NH courts are already dangerously under-funded, and have backlogs of civil cases. It’s hard to imagine where, in revenue starved NH, the money will come from for a death penalty case. The only certainty is that some other program will be robbed so that the state can engage in macho vengeance. A far more sensible course of action (and a better tribute to the slain officer) would be to generate some money to hire more police officers, and ensure that our courts are running properly. The average stay on death row is about 13 years. Does anyone really believe that an execution in the distant future will act as a deterrent to a potential murderer? When your dog pees on the rug, do you wait thirteen years to rub his nose in it?

According to Amnesty International, 94 percent of all known executions in the year 2005 took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Whoo-hoo – we’re keeping company with the human rights violators of the world – there’s a real feather in our national cap. Since 2000, executions performed by these club members have been carried out by: beheading, hanging, shooting, lethal injection, electrocution, stabbing, and stoning. Here in the civilized USA, we opt for electrocution or lethal injection. Does anyone really think that conducting an execution in a pseudo-medical backdrop (lethal injection) somehow puts us on a more moral high ground than the beheadings in Saudi Arabia, or the stonings in Iran?

NH is always looking for new revenue sources, and perhaps our newfound interest in execution could be a money maker. Beheadings could be a prime revenue source – far more vengeance than a sissy faux-medical execution. They could also be available on pay-per-view, just to up the ante. Stonings could also be exclusive, ticketed events, with the added bonus of a lottery to choose a few lucky folks to cast those stones. Firing squads would undoubtedly be very popular given the gun culture we have here in the live free or die state. Hangings – well, hangings might be a little too understated to generate much extra funding. Hangings would probably become the option for the low wage execution fans in our state. If we do it right, we could use the proceeds to fund all the executions, and maybe have a little left over for the General Fund.

Do we really want to join the ranks of Texas and Louisiana? Is this who we want to be as a state? Do we want to teach our children that some killing is okay? Is an “eye for an eye” the kind of new motto we want to adopt for our state? This is worth thinking long and hard about – both the intended and the possible unintended consequences.

“For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check, yet crime persists.” Albert Camus

In the interest of full disclosure - I have recently taken a job with the Kucinich for President Campaign. The views expressed here are not neccessarily those of the candidate. My writing gig is separate from my campaign job.


Anonymous said...

During 2004 only woman were murdered??? Unbelievable!!!! I don't think that's your point, you're trying to say that it's too expensive to pursue the death penalty and what is the deterrent if it's going to take so long to actually pursue the death penalty, well, I'll tell you what takes so long is all of the liberals turning the murderers into victims and drawing the process out! That's the problem! It's the stupid rig-a-marrow, run around, oh jeeze another stay that takes 13 years and millions of dollars to actually carry out the execution! Oh, and by the way, 13 years for a human is more like 2 for a dog!

susanb said...

Dear anonymous,

Like so many of your kin, you have reading comprehension problems. Go back and reread what I said about murder in Manchester in 2004.

The RIGAMAROLE you speak disparagingly of is required because the states keep trying to execute innocent people (usually black or Latino) on the basis of the flimsiest evidence.

Don't the 10 Commandments address killing?

Anonymous said...


Maybe you are the one that needs to go back and reread. You stated clearly that 13 woman were killed in 2004 in domestic violence situations. You however did not mention how many times these victims called the police, were given a chance to leave, but went back to the situation. Does this give the abuser the right to injure or kill them, no. If it did not take so long after the conviction to actually go through with the execution, so many appeals, so much whinning from people, "oh the poor murder, he did not get a fair trial" the the cost would go way down. Let face it, if the suspect did not have more rights in this country then the victims, prices would be kept right down.
Do we really want to join the ranks of Texas and Louisiana? Absolutely!!!

susanb said...

anonymous - you ARE in fact saying that these women were to blame for their own situations.

How do YOU decide who lives and who dies? I'm interested to learn about the amazing clarity of your moral compass, anonymous.

Oh - and are you the same as the first anonymous, or just another offshoot of the tribe? Why are you afraid to affix your name to your comments?