CONCORD, N.H. (AP) â€” Death penalty opponents have the votes in the New Hampshire Senate to approve repeal of the state's capital punishment law, the Senate president said. But Gov. Jeanne Shaheen was waiting in the wings with a veto.
The state House approved the repeal in March, and the Senate was to take up the issue today. The vote was being closely watched â€” even though there is no one on death row in New Hampshire â€” because no state has repealed the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed its reinstatement 23 years ago.
Senate President Beverly Hollingworth, who opposes the death penalty, said Wednesday she expects the repeal to pass, 14-10. But she also said she does not expect Shaheen to change her mind about vetoing it. An override takes a two-thirds majority â€” in the Senate's case, 16 votes.
New Hampshire's death penalty applies to a short list of crimes, including murder of a law enforcement or corrections officer, murder for hire, and murder during rape or attempted rape.
The state has not executed anyone since 1939 and does not have anyone on death row. Shaheen, a Democrat, says New Hampshire's conservative approach to capital punishment is the right approach, but the state should keep it as an option for particularly heinous cases.
Death penalty opponents are buoyed by a recent nationwide spotlight on the issue. In January, the governor of Illinois called for a moratorium on its use after realizing that since 1987, the state had released more wrongfully convicted people from death row than it had executed.
Following the moratorium, President Clinton asked governors in states with the death penalty to examine its use.
That momentum is unlikely to be enough to override a veto by Shaheen.
``If Governor Shaheen were the governor of Illinois, she'd have imposed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, too,'' said her legal counsel, Judy Reardon. ``We don't have those problems in New Hampshire.''
The state also uses it as a threat to get murderers to accept life in prison without parole, she and other supporters have said.
But opponents of the punishment say getting rid of the death penalty is the only way to make sure innocent people are not murdered by the state.
State Rep. Jim Splaine, a Portsmouth Democrat who sponsored the repeal, on Wednesday urged Shaheen to reconsider her position. Several lawmakers have changed their minds following recent revelations about the death penalty's misuse, Splaine said.
Two years ago, Splaine pointed out, the 400-member House rejected a repeal by 40 votes. In March, it passed one by 191-163, a 28-vote margin but well short of two-thirds of those voting that would be needed for a veto override.
There are 3,600 people on death rows nationwide.
Meanwhile, 87 death row inmates have been freed since 1973, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. One of them, Paris Carriger, testified before House lawmakers in January. Carriger spent 21 years on Arizona's death row â€” and once came within three hours of execution â€” before being released.