2011 Spring, Pg. 28. The Risk of Injustice is Real.

AuthorBy Philip T. McLaughlin

New Hampshire Bar Journal


2011 Spring, Pg. 28.

The Risk of Injustice is Real

New Hampshire Bar JournalVolume 52, No. 1Spring 2011The Risk of Injustice is RealBy Philip T. McLaughlinWhen Senate President Sylvia Larsen asked me to accept appointment to this Commission, she asked if she could depend on me to keep an open mind. She was right to ask.

When I became Attorney General, I did so in good conscience with no qualms about my responsibility to enforce New Hampshire's capital murder statute. I did not then, nor do I now, have moral reservations about the right of the state to seek the death penalty for certain homicides. During my tenure as Attorney General between 1997 and 2002, some 80 homicides were investigated, the majority by State Police officers assigned to the Major Crimes Unit. Most resulted in prosecutions by very capable assistants at the AG's Office. In the late 1990's I made decisions that led to the capital prosecution of Gordon Perry and considered seeking a capital indictment against Richard Buchanan.

In Commission proceedings during the past year, I listened to testimony read volumes on the issue, conferred with my Commission colleagues and remembered my own experiences.

I was particularly attentive to the differing views of the three Commission members whose family members were murder victims, Renny Gushing, Brad Whitney and Bob Charron.

I found the testimony of certain witnesses to be particularly compelling.

Attomeys Jeff Strelzin and Will Delker from the Attorney General's Office, with whom I previously served, testified on June 18,2010, and explained in great detail the rigorous examination that prosecutors make of each homicide case and the care they take in making prosecutorial recommendations to the Attorney General. Their testimony rang true with me. When I heard Jeff and Will speak, it took me back 10 years and renewed my pride in the professional staff at the Attorney General's Office.

Francis Christian, the Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester, presented testimony which recalled the long history of the Catholic Church's evolving position on the issue of capital punishment. Bishop Christian's testimony was consistent with the testimony of virtually all clergy who uniformly testified in opposition to the death penalty.

I found the testimony of Manchester Police Captain Gerald Les-sard very compelling. He spoke of the loss of Officer Michael Briggs. He spoke in favor of capital punishment. He was not making an argument for its deterrent effect so much as he was reminding Commission members that the existence of capital punishment in New Hampshire operates, in the view of most law enforcement officers, as a shield from the aggression to which police are so often exposed. It operates as a symbol of the community's solidarity with police...

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