Death Penalty

His Father Was Murdered. He Helped End the Death Penalty Anyway.

“I wanted to be more than somebody who is the son of a murder victim.”


In May, the death penalty died in New England. A bipartisan legislative majority in New Hampshire, the final state in the region to enforce capital punishment, voted to override Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of a bill abolishing the death penalty. At the time of his veto, Sununu urged those legislators to consider the "victims of violent crime across this state."

While it is often assumed that victims of violent crime tend to support capital punishment, one of New Hampshire's most outspoken death penalty critics lost his own father to an act of violence.

"I wanted to be more than somebody who is the son of a murder victim," says Renny Cushing, a Democrat who represents the Rockingham district and serves as the chair of the state's House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. In 1988, Cushing's father was shot and killed before his mother's eyes. Similar tragedy struck his family again in 2011 when his brother-in-law was shot and killed in Tennessee.

His father's death taught him that nothing "prepares one to be the survivor of a homicide victim." When a family friend approached Cushing in a grocery store to express the hope that the state would "fry the bastard," Cushing says he didn't initially know how to respond.

His Irish Catholic upbringing called for him to stand by a consistent life ethic, he explains, which promotes the sanctity of life "from womb to tomb." This influenced his opposition to the death penalty before he lost his father. Yet that family friend had assumed that his father's murder would cause Cushing to change his position.

"As I thought about that over a couple of weeks, I realized that if I had done that, if I changed my position on the death penalty because my father was murdered, that would, in some ways, kind of be a compounding of the loss," he says. Not only would he have lost his father, but he would have lost the values he held dear.

Confronting such assumptions was the beginning of Cushing's anti-death penalty advocacy. In 1998, he presented his first death penalty repeal bill to the state legislature.

Twenty one years later, the repeal effort long championed by Cushing and others has finally paid off.

Bipartisan support was a major factor. "Ending New Hampshire's death penalty would not have been possible without significant Republican support," says Hannah Cox, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. "Increasing numbers of GOP state lawmakers believe capital punishment does not align with their conservative values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and valuing life."

The Republican side also had its own figure who was able to speak from the victim's point of view. Sen. Ruth Ward's (R–Stoddard) father was taken from her family by violence when she was only seven years old. While announcing her support for repealing the death penalty, she said, "My mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill."

Another factor contributing to the repeal law's success, says Cushing, is the general political attitude of the state's people. "New Hampshire has a really incredibly strong libertarian streak," Cushing points out. "In a state where we don't trust the government to collect taxes or plow snow, certainly a lot of people don't want to give the government the power to have a public employee kill incapacitated prisoners."

Cushing has faith that the remaining 29 states that still use capital punishment will eventually change their laws too.

"I know as a state legislator and as someone who's traveled around, who works on a national level on criminal justice policy with other legislators, that the trend is rapidly [going] away from the death penalty," Cushing says. "And I think that you'll see that increase in the coming few years."

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  1. For those of you ant-death penalty types who are against it because you don’t trust the government to get it right, what about those cases where there is no doubt that the convicted committed the crime?

    Are you still unwilling to give the gov’t the power to execute these murderers?

    Are you okay with setting up a Kevorkian machine in their cell that they can choose to use themselves?

    1. As long as we’re considering impossible hypotheticals, why don’t you also ask about support for the death penalty in those cases where the state can wave a magic wand and resurrect someone who was wrongly executed?

      There are no cases where there is “no doubt”. There is always the possibility that the accused was misidentified, framed, coerced into a false confession, etc. The possibility may be remote but “no doubt” is an absolute statement.

      That, by the way, is precisely why “no doubt” is not the legal standard. The legal standard is “beyond reasonable doubt”. But what counts as reasonable is inherently ambiguous and usually inconsistent. It becomes an exercise in line-drawing. And, no, I do not think that we should trust government to get that line right.

      1. There are plenty of cases where there is no doubt. Dahmer, Bundy, Yates, Gacey, etc.. All who are, or should be dead.

        1. And you achieved this mystical enlightenment and certainty how, precisely?

          By the way, I do believe that your examples (Dahmer and Bundy, at least. not familiar with Yates or Gacey) did it. I believe it with the same level of certainty that I believe that my family loves me and that I will survive my commute home this evening. But I also believe that there is a small but non-zero possibility that you and I are wrong.

          1. The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald happened on camera, with a room full of witnesses. Do you believe there’s a chance that someone other than Jack Ruby killed Oswald?

          2. In all the cases I mentioned there is zero room for error except in some bizarre theoretical universe.

            I do agree that absolutely no circumstantial case should ever be subject to a death sentence.

      2. Rossami:

        Possibly, we have proof that two innocent brothers were executed in South Carolina, in 1915.

        Since 1973, about 21,000 innocents have been murdered by those KNOWN murderers that we have allowed to murder, before – recidivist murderers.

        Where’s the innocents at risk problem?

        Do you care?

    2. As mentioned above, “no doubt” is not any legal standard, so that type of standard is irrelevant to the practical discussion of capital punishment.

      If you give the state the LEGAL power to execute certain people in certain cases, they will use that precedent to justify expanding the scope of capital punishment more and more, if for no other reason than to satisfy the passions of the mob who will be braying for “justice” (read as: revenge).

      Ultimately, IMO, capital punishment can only be morally justified if one takes the position that the state ought to have the authority to decide who “deserves” to live and who “deserves” to die. And, short of an actual declared war, I don’t want the state to have this type of authority AT ALL. Not with the criminal justice system, not with health care, not with euthanasia and end-of-life decisions, not at all.

      1. “If you give the state the LEGAL power to execute certain people in certain cases, they will use that precedent to justify expanding the scope of capital punishment more and more,”

        In over two hundred years, the scope of capital punishment has significantly diminished. Thus completely disproving your soft headed and poorly thought out statement.

        As usual.

      2. chemjeff:

        We execute 0.2% of our murderers, after 16 years of appeals, on average, with a 19 year average in 2018.

        Since 1976, with Gregg v Georgia, the US dramatically, limited future death penalty application, with constant, additional limitations, being applied by the courts, after that.

        By state courts or state legislation, 8 states have repealed the death penalty, since 1976.

        5 states have a moratoriums on executions.

        Where’s the expansion, since 1976?

        Your claim is the total opposite of reality.

    3. Cushing’s Denial of Other Victim’s Choices

      The murderers of Rep. Cushing’s father received the maximum sentence available for the crime, life, yet Rep. Cushing wants to deny that same option to other loved ones who wish to seek the maximum sentence in their cases, when they are death eligible murders.

      My condolences to Rep. Cushing, for the two murders in his family, neither of which were death penalty eligible.

      Officer Briggs’ and many others were, are and will be death penalty eligible.

      Why do some murder victim survivors, like Rep. Cushing, wish to deny other murder victim survivors a maximum sentence, when Rep. Cushing had the benefit of a maximum sentence in his case?

      It seems an unfortunate way for survivors to treat survivors.

      Why can’t Rep. Cushing, et al, say:”We disagree with the death penalty, but we will defend the moral/legal right of other murder victim survivors to pursue the death penalty in their cases.”

      Instead, Rep. Cushing and other anti death penalty folks want to take that moral/legal right away, harming the cause of pro death penalty murder victim survivors.

  2. “(Renny Cushing’s) Irish Catholic upbringing called for him to stand by a consistent life ethic, he explains, which promotes the sanctity of life ‘from womb to tomb.'”

    He supports sanctity of life in the womb? Then what’s Renny Cushing’s name doing on this “Statement from State Legislators on the Abortion Ban Crisis”?

    “s state legislators from around the country and members of the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, we condemn this coordinated political strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade and are outraged by efforts to criminalize doctors or patients seeking abortion care….

    “…We respect the sacred duty of public office and we honor our charge to act for a better future for our constituents and communities – and that means protecting abortion rights.”

    1. I mean, Governor Sununu is anti-death penalty, too, because he looks forward to a day when the death penalty is unnecessary. He simply doesn’t want to impose his anti-death-penalty views on the people.


    2. He’s a hypocrite. He’s also ignorant about his own religion. Christianity draws a distinction between murder and a justified execution, and the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for multiple offenses.

    3. Murderers get a pass. Innocent children get dismembered.

    4. It is the social liberal approved version of theocratic position and motive.

    5. Cushing could care less about Catholic teachings.

      He has been fighting the death penalty for decades.

      Until August of 2018, The Church found the death penalty a morally appropriate sanction, with well over 2000 years of pro death penalty teachings by the greatest of Catholic Popes, saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, theologians and biblical scholars supporting that few, with many respected scholars find the sanction mandatory for murder.

      August, 2018 – Poof! That all went away, as a huge repository of once respected pro death penalty teachings, seen as, previously, unchangeable in the moral moral order, just vanished as if into smoke.

      1. Sometimes it seems the only thing that gets the leaders of the Catholic Church really excited is if they have the chance to cover up sex abuse or rewrite/ignore Church teachings in general. They seem to think established doctrines are like choirboys to be manhandled at will.

  3. If someone commits first degree murder if that person is sent to prison for natural life then there will not be a need for the death penalty. Other wise keep the death penalty. That always stops any repetition of the offence.

    1. As everyone knows, living murderer can harm and murder, again, in prion or out, executed one cannot.

      Cushing knows he puts more innocents at risk.

  4. Yeah better to warehouse violent psychos. I love paying for killer’s meals. Makes you yearn for the good ol’ days of firing squads.

  5. I’m trying to imagine a Libertarian in high government office.

    Would libertarians suddenly trust government?

    Or would he complete the dysfunction and dismantle the office he was elected to?

    When business or personal relationships lack trust, they don’t last. It’s not something to be proud of.

    1. Foundational Libertarian philosophy must support the death penalty, because the murderer kills the self, the individual, the most important thing in Libertarian philosophy.

      The self has been murdered and there must be compensation for that, with the only proportional compensation being to take the life of the murderer away, as detailed:

      Libertarian: Death Penalty Essential To Justice

      1. Thanks Hammurabi.

  6. Cushing, of course, left out that polling found the majority in NH supported the death penalty.

    Yes, it is often proven that victim survivors in capital murder cases do support the death penalty.

    81% supported the execution of the OKC bomber Timothy McVeigh, with non scientific polling finding 95% death penalty support.

    Really, no surprise.

    Cushing knows this and it affected him, not one bit.

    1. NOTE:

      That 95% death penalty support, is as per unscientific polling, of those who have lost loved ones to a capital murder.

    2. So the moral case for the death penalty is majoritarianism?

  7. Never give the state the power to execute prisoners.

  8. I consider this the best libertarian defense of capital punishment.

  9. LAME.

    There is plenty of reason to want to guarantee there is SOLID proof before convicting somebody, of any crime really. But there is no reason somebody who has been thoroughly proven guilty shouldn’t be put to death right quick like we used to do in the olden days before the world got retarded. If you have witnesses, DNA, matching riflings on a gun and the round used, etc etc etc, or HELL even a confession… Just whack the person and be done with it. We’ve made so much stupid out of such a simple thing.

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