MANCHESTER — Standing blocks away from where police officer Michael Briggs was fatally shot, Gov. Chris Sununu announced his veto of a bill to repeal New Hampshire's death penalty.
“This bill is an injustice to not only Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and victims of violent crime around the state,” Sununu tweeted.
New Hampshire ended the death penalty in 1976, then reinstated it in 1991. The state has one death-row inmate, Michael Addison, convicted of shooting Officer Briggs in Manchester in October 2006. Addison is the state's first death-row inmate since 1939. A repeal would not affect his sentence.
Briggs and his partner were responding to a domestic disturbance call when they accosted Addison and Antoine Bell-Rodgers the night of Oct. 15. According to court records, Briggs ordered the two men to stop and Addison fired on him; Bell-Rodgers surrendered to police. The two men appear to have been on a crime spree in the days before the shooting, holding up a 7-11 and a Mexican restaurant as well as being involved in a gunfire incident. Bell Rodgers was later sentenced to 60 ½ years.
Twenty states have abolished the death penalty. Last year the General Court voted to end the death penalty in New Hampshire, only to have the repeal vetoed by Sununu; the Senate was 2 votes shy of a veto-proof majority.
This year opponents of the death penalty have enough votes to override the veto. The House of Representatives passed a motion to repeal by 279-88 on March 7. On April 11 the Senate followed suit with a 17-6 vote in favor of repeal.
Support for repeal comes from both sides of the aisle and includes family members of crime victims. Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Rockingham) has made death penalty repeal a central issue of his political career. Cushing, whose father and brother-in-law were murdered in separate incidents, argues that putting their killers to death will not compensate his family for their loss.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Cushing said after the House vote: “The governor has positioned himself as saying he’s vetoing the repeal of the death penalty because he cares about law enforcement and victims, but he’s refused to meet with murder victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty.”
Sen. Ruth Ward (R – Stoddard), whose father was killed when she was 7 years old, also supported repeal. “My mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill,” she said.