Capital punishment in New Hampshire

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. The only crime punishable by it is capital murder.

Since 1734, twenty-four people have been executed, with the last execution carried out in 1939. As of 2016, there is only one condemned man in the state, and no execution facility. New Hampshire is the lone remaining state in New England to allow capital punishment.

Lethal injection is currently the primary legal form of execution, though hanging can be utilized if lethal injection is determined to be "impractical to carry out the punishment of death".[2] Between 1868 and 1939, executions took place at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord. The long hiatus on executions means that while officially considered a "retentionist" state, only four US states have not performed executions more recently than New Hampshire (Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin), and only two countries in the European Union (Sweden and Portugal).

Michael "Stix" Addison was sentenced in December 2008 for knowingly causing the death of Manchester police officer Michael L. Briggs.[1] He is the only person currently on death row in New Hampshire (and by extension, in New England, New York, or New Jersey).

Current status[edit]

Capital murder[edit]

RSA 630:1 Capital Murder is the only crime for which people can be executed in the state. A person is guilty of capital murder if he knowingly causes the death of:[3]

  1. A sheriff or deputy sheriff, state trooper, constable or police officer of a city or town, correctional officer, probation-parole officer, conservation officer, judge or similar person, state or local prosecutor acting in the line of duty or in retaliation for their job.
  2. Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit a kidnapping as defined by RSA 633:1.[4]
  3. Another after conspiring with a third to commit a contract killing.
  4. Another after being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
  5. Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit aggravated felonious sexual assault, as defined in RSA 632-A:2.[5]
  6. Another before, after, while engaged in the commission of, or while attempting to commit robbery.
  7. Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit an offense punishable under RSA 318-B:26, I(a) or (b) of the Controlled Drug Act.[6]

Since the state's last execution of Howard Long on July 14, 1939, there have been eight people charged with capital murder. Three were convicted, but received a mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentence. In three other cases, capital murder charges were resolved before trial, twice because the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional.


After a person has been convicted of capital murder, a separate penalty phase is carried out using the same jury. The jury weighs a variety of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. If a person has been convicted of capital murder and is not sentenced to death, the mandatory sentence is life imprisonment without possibility of parole the same punishment as first degree murder.

Executions must be carried out no sooner than one year after the sentencing. Death row for men and the execution are at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men at Concord. According to state law:

"The punishment of death shall be inflicted by continuous, intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent…"[7]

It is also possible for executions to be carried out by hanging if it is found:

"…to be impractical to carry out the punishment of death by administration of the required lethal substance or substances, the sentence of death may be carried out by hanging…"

Public opinion[edit]

In a 2008 poll conducted for the Concord Monitor, 57 percent of likely voters supported the death penalty in police killing cases, 39 percent favored life in prison without parole and 4 percent weren't sure.[2]

Earlier history[edit]


  • In 1739, two women became the first executed in the state, both convicted of "feloniously concealing the death of a ... infant bastard child".[8] Provincial laws at the time required capital punishment for murder, rape, homosexual acts, abortion, bestiality, burglary, counterfeiting and treason.
  • On May 8, 1755, Eliphas Dow became the first man to be executed in New Hampshire. He was executed in Portsmouth for murder.
  • In 1796, Thomas Powers, an African American, was hanged for rape, and is the only non-white to be executed in the state.
  • In 1868, hangings were moved to the State Prison in Concord, after a riot followed the execution of Samuel Mills on the main street of Woodsville. Prior to the 1868 execution, hangings were carried out in public.
  • In 1903, the punishment for murder in the first degree was changed from death, to "death or imprisonment for life as the jury may determine... If the jury shall find the respondent guilty of murder in the first degree, the punishment shall be life imprisonment unless the jury shall add to their verdict the words, with capital punishment."[9]
  • In 1939, Howard Long was the last person to be executed by the State of New Hampshire. A storekeeper from Alton, Long was hanged at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord on July 14, 1939, for molesting and fatally beating a 10-year-old Laconia boy named Mark Neville Jensen.[3]
  • In 1942, Ralph Jennings was sentenced to be hanged for the murder of a New Jersey schoolteacher. Jennings hanged himself in his cell with his bedsheets.

Furman v. Georgia (1972)[edit]

In 1959, Frederick Martineau and Russell Nelson were convicted of murdering a businessman in a Nashua parking lot, who was scheduled to testify in a Rhode Island burglary case.

Martineau and Nelson received 13 stays of execution, but were spared the death penalty in 1972 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) that "unitary trial" procedure, in which the jury was asked to return a verdict of guilt or innocence and, simultaneously, determine whether the defendant would be punished by death or life imprisonment, was in violation of the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution.


  • In 1971, RSA 630:1 Capital Murder, was enacted. In 1977, RSA 630:1 III., was amended so that a person convicted of a capital murder may be punished by death, instead of shall be punished by death. In 1988, killing another after being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole pursuant was added to RSA 630:1. Also, probation-parole officer was added to the list of law enforcement officers contained in Paragraph II of the statute.
  • In 1992, the New Hampshire State Prison dismantled its gallows.
  • In 1990, causing the death of another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit aggravated felonious sexual assault, or an offense punishable under RSA 318-B:26, I(a) or (b) of the Controlled Drug Act was added as an element of capital murder. In 1994, killing a "judicial officer" was added to the criteria for capital murder, and retaliation a person's actions in the line of duty was added.
  • In 2000, Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed legislation to abolish the death penalty. The act had passed the House of Representatives 191-163[10] and the Senate 14-10.[11] A two-thirds majority to overturn the veto was not achieved.
  • In 2004, Governor Craig Benson vetoed legislation that would have raised the minimum age to execute someone from 17 to 18. Benson said:
"When somebody, regardless of their age, is bold enough to take the life of a police officer, there should be no exceptions — we should make sure that they should pay the ultimate price. So I’m going to make a pledge as governor that if anyone takes the life of a police officer, I will seek the death penalty."
  • In 2006, the statutory minimum age for a person punishable by death increased from 17 to 18 years. The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled in Roper v. Simmons (2005), that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on people who were under age of 18 when they committed a capital crime.
  • In 2009, Representative Stephen Linsey introduced House Bill 556, to repeal the death penalty. The bill was suggested Inexpedient to Legislate by the House Judicial Committee, but passed the House by a narrow margin. Governor Lynch stated that he would veto the bill if it passed the Senate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Autopsy Completed on Officer Michael L. Briggs Charges Upgraded Against Michael Addison" (Press release). Kelly A. Ayotte, Attorney General and Manchester Chief of Police John A. Jaskolka. October 18, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  2. ^ RSA 630:5 Procedure in Capital Murder.
  3. ^ State v. Oscar J. Comery 78 N.H. 6 (1915) citing Laws 1903, c. 114, s. 1.
  4. ^ Bill to abolish the death penalty from Amnesty International[dead link]
  5. ^ New Hampshire Senate votes to abolish death penalty from Amnesty International[dead link]
  6. ^ RSA 630:1 Capital Murder.
  7. ^ RSA 633:1 Kidnapping.
  8. ^ RSA 632-A:2 Aggravated Felonious Sexual Assault.
  9. ^ Controlled Drugs Act - RSA 318-B:26, I(a) or (b)
  10. ^ Benedetto, Christopher. A Warning to All Others: The Story of the First Executions in New Hampshire's History . New England Historical Genealogical Society. citing New Hampshire Province Court Records, Case No. 20062, and Boston News-Letter, September 7, 1739.


  1. ^ Victim's parents praise NH death penalty verdict, WHDH-TV, December 18, 2008
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Kimble, James (January 25, 2008). "Brooks argues death penalty unconstitutional". Derry News. Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. 

Further reading[edit]