By Dave Solomon

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed legislation to repeal the death penalty Friday surrounded by about 30 state, county and local police officers at the Michael Briggs Community Center, named for the officer whose killer is the state's lone occupant of death row.

The governor acknowledged the bill he vetoed received bipartisan support in the House and Senate that was "pretty overwhelming."

The inner city youth center, which is headquarters for the Police Athletic League, is named in honor of the slain Manchester police officer whose 2006 murder has been at the center of the capital punishment debate in New Hampshire.

Also on hand for the veto signing were members of the Briggs family, some of whom had previously testified against repeal as the bill worked its way through the legislature.

Michael Addison, already a convicted felon when he shot officer Briggs, is the only person on death row in New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone since 1939.

A recurring theme among repeal opponents has been the fear that Addison's sentence will be converted to life without parole if the death penalty is repealed, even though repeal advocates argue that the law can't be applied retroactively.

After the veto signing, Sununu said he believes in the death penalty as a matter of sound public policy and that he would have vetoed a repeal whether or not the state had an inmate on death row.

"The reason is quite obvious," he said, "when you talk to law enforcement and ask if this serves as a deterrent, they say 'absolutely.' People in this state understand that this is a tool and when you use it justly and with prudence, as New Hampshire does, it's appropriate."

Repeal cleared the state Senate on April 11 with a veto-proof, 17-6, two-thirds margin. The House passed the repeal measure, HB 455, on March 3, also by a veto-proof vote of 279-88. Only 16 votes are needed in the Senate to sustain an override.

Twelve Senate Democrats voted for the repeal bill along with Republicans John Reagan of Deerfield, Harold French of Franklin, Bob Giuda of Warren, David Starr of Franconia and Ruth Ward of Stoddard.

Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh of Manchester was the only Democrat to vote against repeal. Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, also of Manchester, has voted against repeal in the past but was not present for the latest vote.

Sununu said he would do everything he could to "engage citizens in this process."

"When you get to sustaining or overturning a veto, a lot of dynamics come into play," he said. "So we'll go back and talk to folks. We'll keep fighting for it. The vote was pretty overwhelming, to be honest. Politics didn't come into play. I think it was folks not really understanding what this means to law enforcement and their families."

(c)2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)