Robert Curley testifies before NH Death Penalty Study Commission, Septeber 30, 2010.Photo: AFSC / Arnie Alpert
Thirteen years ago today, when an 11-year old boy, Jeffrey Curley, was brutally murdered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his father immediately became the chief spokesperson for a movement to restore the state’s death penalty. “Initially I don’t know how I could feel any way other than to be in favor of the death penalty,” Robert Curley recalled last night in testimony before a commission studying New Hampshire’s death penalty. But over time, Curley says, he was able to take a closer look and changed his mind. Now, he participates in an international movement to abolish the death penalty everywhere.
Curley was one of sixteen people who spoke to the study commission last night in Durham, where members held their third of three public hearings. All sixteen, which included clergy, high school and college students, the President of the NH Psychiatric Society, and a retired Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, called for the state’s death penalty to be repealed.
“There is no question in my mind that the death penalty does not work,” observed Gerald Kogan, who participated in more than 1200 death penalty cases in a long career as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge. “You’re better off without it,” he told the Commission members, who include legislators, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and relatives of homicide victims.
Kogan’s and Curley’s messages echoed those of previous hearings and most of the testimony collected by the commission over the past year. Commission members now have to process what they heard about the death penalty’s cost, the impact of protracted trials on victim’s families and an overstretched judicial system, the lack of evidence showing the death penalty deters murder, and the possibility that innocent people could be executed.
Commission members, who were appointed by political leaders or as representatives of organizations named in the authorizing legislation, now have two months to report their findings. Barbara Keshen, who chairs the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, says the testimony they heard was overwhelmingly opposed to continuing the death penalty. “We trust the commissioners have kept an open mind,” she said.