Speech by son of murder victim credited with passage in House
By Patrick Cronin
April 12, 2009 6:00 AM
State Rep. Renny Cushing is once again at the forefront of a drive to abolish capital punishment in the state of New Hampshire.
The Hampton Democrat's emotional testimony two weeks ago on the House floor was credited by some with swaying enough votes — 193-174 — to send a bill repealing the death penalty to the Senate.
On the floor, Cushing shared his own tragic story. His father was shot to death in the doorway of his Hampton home in 1988 by a neighbor who was a town police officer.
"There was a knock on the front door ... my dad got up to open it and two shotgun blasts rang out, turned his chest into hamburger and he died in front of my mother in the home they lived in for 35 years and raised seven children."
And while his family wanted justice, Cushing testified that killing the man who killed his Dad wasn't the answer.
"The death penalty would not have brought my father back, it would only further victimize another family," Cushing said. If we make those who kill, make us into killers, then evil triumphs. And we all lose."
For Cushing, the speech that left some lawmakers in tears was 20 years in the making.
Since his father's death, Cushing has turned his loss into something positive by becoming a leading voice in victim's rights and an advocate against the death penalty.
"I didn't chose this path, it chose me," Cushing said in a recent interview. "It wasn't my choice to be a survivor of a murder victim. But I can't change the past. What I can do is take from life experiences and try to make good of it."
Brought up with what he recalls a religious background and a strong morality instilled into him by his parents, he always opposed the death penalty.
Cushing said he did not waver from that stance even after his father was killed by the neighbor with a grudge against the Cushing family.
The two people who were convicted of the murder — Robert McLaughlin Sr. and his wife, Susan — are now serving sentences of life without parole.
"If I changed my opinion it would have given my father's murderer more power," Cushing said. "Not only would my father be taken from me but so would my values."
But his public fight for the repeal of the death penalty, Cushing said, didn't begin until 11 years ago.
At the time, he was a state representative and the issue of expanding the grounds of death penalty came to the forefront in 1998 after a number of grisly murders.
Cushing said he reluctantly became a stakeholder in the discussion on what to do with killers in the aftermath of homicide because his father was murdered.
"Most people presume those who have someone murdered support the death penalty," Cushing said. "I felt that I had the moral obligation to honor my father's memory and myself by speaking out publicly in opposition of filling another coffin."
Cushing did so by fighting against the bill and sponsoring another to abolish the death penalty.
While his bill failed, so did the one to expand the death penalty.
The debate, however, spurred Cushing to take the debate nationwide.
"I met other people who were just like me," Cushing said. "They had family members who were murdered but opposed the death penalty. They needed a voice."
As a result, in 2004 he founded Murder Victim Families for Human Rights — an organization against the death penalty — and since then has given numerous speeches across the country.
"For me this is way that I honor my father's memory," Cushing said.
Cushing admitted that he was surprised the bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House.
The vote came three months after Michael Addison was sentenced to death in December for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.
Cushing said possibly hearing from a victim who didn't support retribution flipped some votes.
But whatever the reason, Cushing is glad the bill will now be debated in the Senate.
"Justice has nothing to do with the death penalty," Cushing said. "There is nobody that wants killers caught, prosecuted and held accountable more than I do," Cushing said. "But capital punishment is nothing more than a state-sanctioned, ritualized murder."
Cushing said all the death penalty does is make people focus on the killer rather than the real needs of the victims.
The last time the state executed someone was in 1939 and to carry out future executions it will need to spend a million dollars to construct an execution chamber.
While the bill's fate in the Senate is uncertain, Gov. John Lynch has already vowed a veto if it reaches his desk.
Cushing said he plans to keep working.
His speech on the House floor was very emotional for him.
"Just as the abolition of slavery, women suffrage and the right of workers to organize have all come part of our society so too will the death penalty be repealed," Cushing said. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."