Death penalty ‘retards healing’

The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for “the worst of the worst,” says Matthew Campbell, a veteran prosecutor from Maryland. If that’s the case, Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for planning and carrying out the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was surely in that category.But Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter, Julie, was one of the 168 people murdered that day, says even in that extreme case the death penalty serves no useful function. Both Campbell and Welch addressed the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission, which met Sept. 10 in Concord.”Nothing about the killing of Timothy McVeigh brought me any peace,” Welch told the commissioners, whose members include three relatives of homicide victims. “The death penalty retards the healing process,” he said.Campbell was a local prosecutor for 25 years and served on a Maryland study commission similar to the one he addressed in Concord. He pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court states that the death penalty can only be used in a manner that is fair and equitable, free from error, and free from bias. But reaching that standard “can’t be done,” he has concluded.Speaking to the study commission, which includes several current and former homicide prosecutors, Campbell reviewed several Maryland cases, including one in which a hired killer was sentenced to death, but the man who hired him and carefully plotted out the murder of his own wife and child was spared.”However we seek to employ the death penalty, fallible people have to decide,” he said.Dick Gerry, warden of the State Prison in Concord, described the conditions under which prisoners serving life sentences are incarcerated. Contrary to a notion that those serving life sentences might act recklessly, he said they have “a calming influence on the institution.”Barbara Keshen, a former prosecutor and public defender who now chairs the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, played a recorded telephone message from the Victims Assistance Office in the Attorney General’s Office, which has been understaffed for months due to lack of resources at the same time the department was spending millions and continues to spend millions to secure a single death penalty.She also displayed a photo of a former client who came close to being tried on capital charges for a crime he did not commit.”We are deluding ourselves to think we would not run an ultimate risk of putting someone who is innocent to death,” she said. Keshen said the millions of dollars that go to death penalty cases should be directed instead to victims’ assistance, “cold case” prosecutions and law enforcement .The commission, which has been meeting monthly for a year, will hold a public hearing Sept. 30 in Durham.Its next regular meeting will be Oct. 1. The commission is slated to report its overall findings by Dec. 1. Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee and serves on the board of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He can be reached at 603-224-2407 or at

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