(Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Wikimedia Commons)
In just a few days, New Hampshire legislators could make their state's death penalty law the most expansive in the country if they vote in favor of a bill that allows capital punishment to be eligible for all murders without any distinction. Anti-death penalty organizations and church groups are calling for lawmakers to vote against the proposed bill, arguing that capital punishment is too expensive and puts innocent lives at risk.
State Rep. Phil Greazzo (R-Manchester) wrote the bill, HB 162, to make all "purposeful" murders eligible for the death penalty. The Republican legislator claims current state law is unfair and that the death penalty should be more expansive and apply to all cases involving murder.
In New Hampshire, the only crimes that are eligible for the death penalty include the murder of on-duty law enforcement officers, murder-for-hire cases, murder during imprisonment, murder during a rape, kidnapping or burglary, and murders involving drug crimes.
"If I hire someone to commit a murder for me, that would bring the death penalty," Greazzo said, according to the Concord Monitor. "If I did it myself, there's no death penalty. So the law is a little bit askew in fairness."
"I think in the interest of equality and justice, anybody who commits a murder should forfeit their life – they don't deserve to live."
However, several Christian groups in New Hampshire do not share Greazzo's sentiment.
The American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit Quaker organization, and the New Hampshire Council of Churches, are two Christian groups urging New Hampshire lawmakers to vote against the bill.
AFSC claims on its website that the new bill is "too expansive and too expensive," pointing out that New Hampshire has only one inmate on death row, that this person's case has cost the state over $5 million in appeals, which is "more than it would cost to jail him for 100 years," AFSC says.
The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP) is joining the Christian groups in their criticism of the bill.
"The bill that [Greazzo] is proposing would be extremely expensive to the state of New Hampshire when we're trying to cut the budget," Raymond Bilodeau, community organizer for NHCADP, told The Christian Post Monday.
"It's also unfair," he added, pointing to the possibility that expanding the death penalty means increasing the possibility that an innocent person wrongly convicted of murder gets killed.
"There are a lot of possibilities for prosecutors to make mistakes, and you see those mistakes across the country," Bilodeau said. "The number of people who have been exonerated since 2000 is over 125."
For death penalty opponents, however, there could be a huge benefit in Greazzo's bill. Expecting the initial expansion to fail, either by vote or governor veto, the lawmaker also added an amendment that would abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire altogether.
"If it's going to be too expensive to prosecute and execute every murderer, it shouldn't apply to anyone," Greazzo said, according to The Associated Press. "Everyone should be treated equally under the law, even murderers."
For this reason, Bilodeau is urging New Hampshire residents to call their legislators and urge them to vote "no" on the bill and "yes" on the amendment.
Although Greazzo's bill, if passed, would give New Hampshire the most expansive death penalty law in the country, state prosecutors rarely request the death penalty.
In 2008, businessman John Brooks was the first New Hampshire resident in 50 years to face a death sentence when he stood trial for hiring hit men to murder a man suspected of stealing two motorcycles and a trailer, according to the AP.
The jury convicted Brooks, but opted to give him a life sentence, rather than the death penalty.
That same year, Michael "Stix" Addison was convicted of shooting a police officer and sentenced to death by the jury – the first time a jury had done so in the state since 1939.
Addison remains New Hampshire's only inmate currently on death row.