CONCORD, N.H. >> The New Hampshire Senate defeated a measure Thursday to repeal the death penalty and tabled another that would have suspended its use until methods exist to ensure an innocent person isn't executed.
The vote mirrored a 2014 repeal effort that deadlocked in the 24-member Senate. It followed a short debate between senators who support the death penalty — invoking several high-profile murder cases — and those who oppose it.
Sen. Kevin Avard, a Concord Republican who is chief sponsor of the bill to suspend use of the death penalty, told his colleagues he'd been a death penalty advocate all his life. But he said after interviewing those who were exonerated after lengthy prison stints for crimes they didn't commit, "I think we need to put the brakes on."
"I know New Hampshire doesn't seem to have a problem, but why wait until we do have a problem?" Avard said.
He was joined in supporting repeal or suspension by Sen. Gary Daniels, another Republican who said he's voted on both sides of the issue in his 20 years in the legislature.
Rep. Andy Sanford, a Concord Republican, cited the machete murder of Kimberly Cates during a home invasion in 2009 and the killing of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 in arguing against repeal.
Sanborn also noted that a death penalty commission formed in 2009 to study its use in New Hampshire issued a 180-page report recommending that it be retained.
Briggs' killer, Michael Addison, is the only person on death row in New Hampshire. The repeal and suspension proposals voted on Thursday would not have affected his death sentence.
Rep. Renny Cushing, a staunch death penalty opponent whose father and brother-in-law were killed in separate incidents, said he's encouraged by Avard's and Daniels' support for repeal.
"I think they spoke deeply from the heart," Cushing said. "The more people study the death penalty, the less there is to like."
New Hampshire is the only state in New England with the death penalty still on the books. The state's last execution took place in 1939, when Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death, was hanged.
The House next week is scheduled to take up a bill that would expand the state's death penalty to acts of terrorism. A committee voted 11-4 that it would be impractical to implement.