New Hampshire Governor Vetoes Death Penalty Repeal Bill


​Andrea LeBlanc, who lost her husband in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, speaks against the death penalty at New Hampshire’s Legislative Office Building. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a bill Thursday that would have abolished the state’s death penalty. “While I very much respect the arguments made by the proponents of this bill,” he said, “I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates of justice.”

Representative Renny Cushing, a repeal proponent whose father was murdered in 1988, said that not all crime victims agree with the governor.

“Many murder victim family members in our state paid a very painful, harsh price for the right to tell Gov. Sununu that we don’t want killing in our name,” Mr. Cushing said. “The reality is that the death penalty does not do the one thing we wish it would do: bring our loved ones back.”

Mr. Cushing and six other family members of murder victims led a petition drive that delivered over 56,000 signatures to the governor’s office in support of repealing capital punishment.

Former Manchester deputy police chief Rep. Richard O’Leary said he voted for the bill because “I don’t believe we have the right under any circumstances, except immediate self-defense, to take a life. Once the criminal has been subdued, arrested, segregated from society and rendered defenseless, I cannot see where the state has any compelling interest in executing him. It’s simply wrong.”

New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939. Only one person is sentenced to death in the state, and the repeal bill would not have applied to him. 

In 2000, then-governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a similar repeal bill. 

While Governor Sununu, surrounded by police officers, invoked the need to protect police officers to justify his veto, a recent study found that murder rates in general and murders of police officers are consistently higher in states that have the death penalty and that police officers were killed at a rate 1.37 times higher in current death-penalty states than in states that had long abolished capital punishment.

New Hampshire is the only New England state with the death penalty. The other five New England states are among the 10 safest states in the country for police officers, but in New Hampshire, officers are killed at a rate higher than the national average.

The bill received bipartisan support in both houses of the state legislature. A two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting is needed to override the governor’s veto. While reports suggest an override is possible, it is currently not clear whether there will be sufficient votes to override.

The bill received bipartisan support in both houses of the state legislature prior to Governor Sununu’s veto.