Editor's note: This article was co-signed by nine members of the board of the New Hampshire Police Association and represents the official position of that organization.
We felt compelled to respond to the March 9 letter from 16 Nashua-area representatives calling for the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. While we understand that some people may oppose the death penalty for personal and moral reasons, that does not give those people license to misrepresent information related to this controversial subject. Space precludes us from responding to each point, so we will address only the most egregious.
With regard to the claim that 140 "wrongly convicted" persons on death row were later found to be "not guilty," that claim is put forward by the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty advocacy group. A closer examination shows that this claim is largely false. It fails to distinguish between those who are legally "not guilty" and those that are factually innocent - a crucial and important distinction. For example, if a convicted person won an appeal for a new trial after 20 years and the prosecution declined to retry that person because key witnesses have died, the DPIC would list the person as "exonerated." That does not mean that the person was factually innocent, legally found "not guilty," or even "wrongly convicted."
An objective audit of the DPIC list reveals approximately two dozen people who were factually innocent, yet convicted. Advocates of death penalty repeal tout these people as evidence of the failures of our criminal justice system, when the exact opposite is true. The fact that they weren't executed is evidence that our system, with all of its procedural and due process safeguards, works.
The claim that "20 innocent" people have been executed is without merit. The holy grail of the anti-death-penalty movement is a demonstrably innocent person who has been executed. No such person has been found since the post-Furman v. Georgia death penalty reforms were put in place and the death penalty was resumed in the U.S. in 1976.
The claim that there is no quantifiable research available that shows that the death penalty deters murders is false. There have been 27 peer-reviewed studies since 1999 (including one by a researcher who admits that he is against the death penalty) that indicate that the death penalty saves lives. This confirms the truism we already know - that all negative consequences deter some. However, that deterrence effect is lost if the death penalty is rarely or never used in cases that warrant it.
The death penalty provides greater protections for the innocent. The accused in death penalty cases have more due process protections than life-without-parole cases. Innocent victims are spared from convicted murders, who, as history has shown, can kill again while in prison, or upon being paroled, escaping, or having their sentences commuted.
The fact that so few people in New Hampshire have been sentenced to death is evidence that the citizens of the state take this matter seriously. The death penalty should be retained until there is clear and convincing evidence that the people of New Hampshire no longer desire it.
The signatories: Keith Phelps, John Yurcak, Kenneth Chamberlain, Robert O'Connor, Patrick Cheetham, George Mallios, Timothy King, Timothy Mone Paul Dean.