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NH Gov. Vetoes Death-Penalty Repeal

May 19, 2000

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ The governor vetoed a bill Friday that would have repealed the death penalty, something no state has done since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

The veto by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, which was expected, came a day after the Senate passed the measure 14-10.

``Our statute is designed to make the carrying out of the death penalty extraordinarily difficult,″ Shaheen said, citing safeguards that include automatic appeals.

``There are some murders that are so brutal and heinous that the death penalty is the only appropriate penalty,″ she said.

She cited the 1997 case of loner Carl Drega, who tracked down and killed a judge, a man who tried to save her and two state troopers. She noted that Drega’s property was extensively booby-trapped with explosives ``designed to kill and maim countless people.″

``If Carl Drega had not been killed that day, I believe an indictment or capital murder would have been appropriate for his cold-blooded, brutal murders,″ Shaheen said.

The Senate vote fell short of the 16 votes needed to override a veto. The 400-member House approved the repeal in March 191-163, also well short of the two-thirds necessary for an override.

New Hampshire’s Legislature was just the second to vote to repeal the death penalty since the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision. A repeal passed in 1979 by Nebraska lawmakers was vetoed.

The Legislature’s vote was largely symbolic. No one is on death row in New Hampshire and hasn’t executed anybody in 61 years. It had the lowest murder rate in the nation in 1998.

In vetoing the bill, Shaheen brushed off appeals from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.

``As you know, there is no evidence that the death penalty deters heinous crimes, and it has been found that a number of those on death row, in Ohio and other states, have later been found to be innocent, primarily by DNA tests,″ the Carters wrote.

Tutu, a cleric who fought to end apartheid in South Africa, said in a statement that the death penalty was ``one of the pinnacle symbols of violence, vengeance and hate in our world today″ and urged Shaheen to ``choose life over death.″

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies to a short list of crimes, including murder of a law enforcement officer and murder during rape or attempted rape.

In the last 12 years, five men have been candidates for capital murder charges. One was Richard Buchanan, who was wrongfully accused of raping and murdering the 6-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend in 1997.

Attorney General Philip McLaughlin faced a public outcry when he decided not to charge Buchanan with capital murder. But genetic evidence eventually forced prosecutors to drop all charges.

Buchanan, who spent six months in jail, became a poster boy for death-penalty opponents. A former neighbor, James Dale, was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Amnesty International was heartened by the repeal vote despite Shaheen’s veto.

``We see it in the context of a continuing movement across New Hampshire and the nation of reconsidering the use of the death penalty,″ spokesman Alistair Hodgett said.


On the Net:

Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.essential.org/dpic

Justice for All advocacy group: http://www.prodeathpenalty.com

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