Politics + Executions = Comedy Gold!

In emails that have come out during the appeal of New Hampshire’s one and only death sentence, we have learned that former New Hampshire Attorney General (and current U.S. Senator-elect) Kelly A Ayotte began plans to run for election just days after announcing she was seeking the death penalty in the case.  As the New Hampshire Union Leader reports (in a special “print-only” article):

In one e-mail exchange between Ayotte and Robert Varsalone, her friend and future political advisor, under the subject “Get ready to run….,” Varsalone discussed Republican campaign chances and possible candidates.

“Have you been following the last 2 week.  A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty,” Ayotte responded to Varsalone in the Oct 27, 2006 e-mail.

“I know, I read about it.  Where does AG Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH,” Varsalone wrote back.

Funny stuff.

Speaking of politics, as California officials were trying in October to engineer a pre-election execution (an effort that failed and cost the state’s taxpayers $4 million) it turns out they were madly searching the globe for sodium thiopental, since their supply of the execution drug had expired.  From Pakistan to the U.K. they looked, but, as Stephen Colbert (who is a real comedian) explains below, they eventually found what they were looking for in neighboring Arizona, leading one California official to quip, “You guys are life-savers.”

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tiny Triumphs – Lethal Drug Shortage
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

Does Not Comport

The year 2009 saw a shift in New Hampshire, when the state legislature voted to form a Commission to Study the Death Penalty in order to look further into the pros and cons of continuing capital punishment.  New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only issued one death sentence in the past 50 years.  The Commission has been meeting in Concord on the second Friday of every month, opening its doors to the public, and the topic for the today was “Whether the Death Penalty Comports with Evolving Moral Standards.”

The Commission will publish its findings on December 1, 2010, and so far has done its best to bring in a wide range of viewpoints, including members of law enforcement, murder victims’ families, as well as representatives from organizations opposed to the death penalty. There is no indication yet as to what the report might recommend. 

During today’s hearing, Amnesty International USA’s Northeast Regional Director, Joshua Rubenstein, testified in front of the commission, making Amnesty’s case that the death penalty is one of the most fundamental of all human rights violations, and urging New Hampshire to abolish it.  Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck and religious leaders also spoke. 

Over 180 New Hampshire religious leaders also published a letter today expressing their sentiment that the death penalty indeed does NOT comport with evolving moral standards.  The concluding paragraph of the letter reads:

“It is our respect for human life and our opposition to violence in our society that prompts us to join with other death penalty opponents in New Hampshire to advocate for repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty. We urge you to recommend that capital punishment be repealed in New Hampshire and that state resources be devoted to prevention of crime and achieving healing and restorative justice for victims.”

State Death Penalty Debates Begin

As we move deeper into January, most state legislative sessions have begun.  The unifying feature in all these state legislatures is the grim economic and budget picture, but despite that, or perhaps because of that, several states will be debating the death penalty in very substantive ways.  This week, legislative committees in Kansas and Washington are considering abolition. 

The debate in Kansas is significant; their abolition bill, supported by Republican Senator Carolyn McGinn passed out of committee last year but was returned for further study.   In 2003, an official government study concluded that the death penalty in Kansas costs considerably more than the alternatives, and Kansas has not carried out a single execution since the death penalty was reinstated.

Neither has New Hampshire, and a Study Commission in the Granite State is spending this year evaluating the pros and cons of retaining a punishment that they are most likely never going to use (1 death sentence since 1959, no executions since 1939).  A bill to establish a similar study commission in Missouri has been filed, and there is likely to be serious consideration of that this year as well. 

Despite a focus in 2010 on budgets and elections, capital punishment will continue to make news in the halls of many state legislatures.  And, as in recent years (with some exceptions – Virginia, for example), the news will mostly be about efforts to restrict or eliminate the death penalty.

Money for Nothing

The death penalty costs money – more money than the alternatives – and, as Wonkette notes “basically every state in the union is broke”.  This is why (or at least one of the reasons why) more states than ever before are having serious death penalty repeal debates.  In Kansas, a Republican Senator has filed an abolition bill, telling FoxNews.com: “This will save significant money — money that could be used toward education programs and toward community corrections programs.”  In Colorado, they don’t have enough money to solve cold cases, and a bill to pass along the savings from death penalty abolition to create a cold case unit has passed its first hurdle.  New Hampshire suspended jury trials for an entire month to save money, and they haven’t executed anyone since 1939 – so why do they still have the death penalty?

Of course, the death penalty is a fundamental human rights violation, so even if it were dirt cheap, it would still be wrong and deserving of total abolition.  But it’s not cheap at all … and we can’t afford it.

One of These Is Not Like the Other

(A) A white millionaire and (B) an indigent black man … Same state … Both convicted of capital murder … Which one do you think gets the death penalty? 

If you answered (B) – and I know you did – then, of course, you’re right.

In the state of New Hampshire, which hasn’t carried out an execution since 1939 and has no death row or execution chamber, Michael Addison, an indigent black man convicted of killing a white police officer, today received the first death sentence in New Hampshire in almost 50 years

In early November, John “Jay” Brooks, a white millionaire, was also convicted of capital murder, and his jury found that the state had adequately proven all the aggravating factors necessary to secure a death sentence.  But they still rejected the death penalty for Brooks.  As his lawyer Monica Foster wisely put it, Brooks is “not the kind of people juries routinely kill.”

But they do kill people like Michael Addison.

Or at least they try to.  Most death sentences are never carried out, and that is especially true in the execution-shy Northeast.

Meanwhile New Hampshire taxpayers, facing at least $60 million in budget cuts, will now have finance the construction a death row and a death chamber for one inmate, and can look forward to funding decades of appeals in a vain effort to get to an execution that will almost certainly never happen.

Why Does New Hampshire Have the Death Penalty?

A jury in New Hampshire has just sentenced a white millionaire businessman named John Brooks to life without parole for the capital murder of Jack Reid in 2005. This was New Hampshire’s first death penalty trial in 49 years; New Hampshire has no one on death row and has not carried out an execution since 1939, and the refusal of this jury to vote for a sentence of death begs the question:  why does New Hampshire have the death penalty?

A second death penalty trial is also underway in New Hampshire, where African American Michael Addison is charged with killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.  If Addison is convicted, it will be interesting to see what the jury will decide … a failure to vote for death would add to the argument that the death penalty in New Hampshire has little point, while a vote for death might raise eyebrows, given that today a white millionaire was spared execution.