Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

State Rep. Renny Cushing was the prime sponsor of the bill to repeal the New Hampshire death penalty. (Photo: AFSC/Arnie Alpert)

Why the Death Penalty Should Die

Killing killers won't bring back victims

Renny Cushing

In hauntingly similar but unrelated crimes, separated by 23 years and a thousand miles, my father Robert Cushing and my brother-in-law Stephen McRedmond were murdered, both at their own houses. Family homes became crime scenes; horror displaced happiness; and homicide, as it always does, brought to my family pain for which there are no words.

Nothing prepares a person for the murder of a loved one–to have what is most precious taken, forever, by another human being. Murder is the ultimate disempowerment, for both the victim and the survivors. And every family responds differently to murder and its traumatic wounds.

The challenges are many: Finding the strength to get out of bed. Figuring out what to do with the empty chair at the kitchen table. Working to understand–and avoid being crushed by–police investigations and court systems. And honoring the life and the memory of the deceased while seeking justice.

But I do not believe the needs of crime victims or their survivors are met by killing the killers. In 2004, I helped create Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of survivors of homicide victims who oppose the death penalty. As a New Hampshire state representative, I work to promote policies that enhance public safety and meet the needs of crime victims. My father’s murderer, who had been a local police officer, is serving life without parole; my brother-in-law’s murderer, his nephew, took his own life.

Our society is conflicted about the death penalty. I recognize and respect the diversity of opinions about capital punishment among survivors of murder victims. Unlike those of many death-penalty opponents, my views are victim-centered. My opposition is not rooted in what an execution does to a condemned prisoner but in what a system that embraces the ritual killing by government employees of an incapacitated prisoner does to me–to us, as individuals and as a society.

Arguing that an execution is the solution to the pain of victims’ families does not reflect an understanding of the journey of surviving family members after a murder, and it completely ignores the reality of our broken capital-punishment system. Most important, executions do not do the one thing we all really want: bring our loved ones back from the dead.

For any person, the worst murder is the murder of a family member. A system that purports to execute only those who commit heinous murders creates a hierarchy of victims. Families devastated by crime become revictimized by a system focused on criminals, while the impact of crime itself and the needs of victims are all too often ignored. Sadly, some victims’ survivors spend so much time focusing on how their cherished one died that they end up forgetting how the person lived.

As a society, we can and we must do better by victims of violent crime. We can live without the death penalty.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Renny Cushing

Renny Cushing

Renny Cushing is a five-term New Hampshire state representative and a founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. His father's murder in 1988 influenced his work as an advocate for victims of crime and as a leading voice in the anti-death penalty movement.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Jan. 6 Panel Subpoenas Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone

Noting his refusal to cooperate beyond an informal April interview, the committee's chair said that "we are left with no choice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Pushes Back Against AIPAC Super PAC With Endorsements of Tlaib and Levin

"Once again, these extremists are pouring millions of dollars into a congressional race to try to ensure the Democratic Party advances the agenda of powerful corporations and the billionaire class."

Brett Wilkins ·


Missouri Hospital System Resumes Providing Plan B After 'Shameful' Ban

The health network had stopped offering emergency contraception over fears of violating the state's abortion law—a "dangerous" move that critics warned could become a national trend.

Jessica Corbett ·


'An Act of Conquest': Native Americans Condemn SCOTUS Tribal Sovereignty Ruling

"Every few paragraphs of the majority opinion has another line that dismissively and casually cuts apart tribal independence that Native ancestors gave their lives for," observed one Indigenous law professor.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Lunacy': Democrats Risk Running Out of Time to Confirm Federal Judges

"Democrats aren't filling open seats right now in federal district courts because, for unfathomable reasons, they are letting red state senators block nominees," said one critic.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo