New Hampshire Abolishes the Death Penalty


Today, the state Senate joined the House in voting to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of a bipartisan bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire that passed last month with enough votes to override a veto. New Hampshire is the 21st state to abolish the death penalty, and the ninth in the last 15 years.

The bill revokes the existing capital punishment statute and replaces it with a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“State-sanctioned killing is cruel, ineffective and inherently flawed,” said Senator Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover). “In committee we heard tragic, heart-wrenching testimony from those whose loved ones were murdered. Many testified that state killings do nothing to honor the lives of their loved ones.”

Senator Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard) spoke briefly before the Senate voted on the bill last month. Her father was killed when she was seven. “He never saw us grow up,” she said. “My mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill.”

The same bill passed the state House of Representatives on March 3, also with a veto-proof supermajority (279-88).

Sponsored by seven Democrats and six Republicans across both houses of the state legislature, this is the third death penalty repeal passed by New Hampshire lawmakers. In 2000 and 2018, the bills were vetoed. An attempt to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto last year fell two votes short in the Senate.

The repeal bill does not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, the only person currently sentenced to death in New Hampshire. The state has not executed anyone since 1939 and presently has no execution protocol in place.

Bills to restrict or repeal the death penalty have been introduced in at least 18 states this year, half of them with significant Republican sponsorship or support.

State Senator John Reagan, a Republican who long believed the death penalty was important to public safety, said during the senate debate that he now favors repeal because “the more and more experience I had with government, I concluded that the general incompetency of government didn’t make them the right people to decide life and death.”