Democrats raised objections to the so-called “Adam Montgomery Bill” during a New Hampshire House committee hearing Wednesday, asking if it’s fair for the state to force alleged rapists and murderers to attend their own trials or face sanctions.

“I have some concern that a person would be punished even if they weren’t found guilty yet,” Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua) told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “I think for me, I like the idea that the person has to be there for sentencing.”

According to the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Concord), the proposal is a direct response to convicted child-killer Adam Montgomery, who refused to appear in court throughout his trial for the murder of his 5-year-old daughter Harmony. He will likely skip his May 9 sentencing as well.

Shurtleff said his proposal would apply to Class A felonies, which include violent crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, and sexual assault. A New Hampshire Class A felony carries a state prison term of seven-and-a-half to 15 years.

Democrats serving on the committee appeared to be concerned that individuals facing Class-A felony charges who are later found not guilty could still be charged with failing to physically appear in court.

“The language in the bill, having been charged or awaiting sentencing, seems to open the door to the possibility someone could actually be found not guilty of the crime but would still be charged with an offense if they didn’t appear for some reason,” said Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth).

Rep. Loren Selig (D-Durham) said she’s “hoping for a floor amendment” that would restrict the proposal to only mandate defendants be physically present in the courtroom for their sentencing date.

“Perhaps also make it so they have to be there for victim statements and sentencing but not necessarily mandated for the rest of it; that’s truly their choice,” Selig added.

The pushback by Democrats drew a subtle rebuke from Rep. Jonathan Stone (R-Claremont).

“We have a history in this country of having public trials for a reason,” Stone said. “I think more often on this committee, we focus on the defendants and not enough on the victims.”

Montgomery was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of his daughter, Harmony. Her body has never been found after she was reported missing in 2021.

Committee Chairman Terry Roy (R-Deerfield) also pushed back on the concerns voiced by Democrats.

“I think we have to be careful not to confuse the person’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, in other words not take the stand, versus the mere fact of them being present in the room for the purpose of having to face their alleged victim,” Roy said.

Shurtleff, a retired supervisory deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service, said not once in his nearly 30 years on the job could he “recall any time an attorney didn’t want their client to be present with them in court.”

He added that he’s not concerned with the criticisms raised by Democrats.

“It quite simply says that if you’re charged with a class A felony, you must make all court appearances, and that’s why I put the provision in the bill—if the defendant’s attorney makes a motion to excuse a client, then the court could grant the motion. There is a mechanism to excuse someone from court,” Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff also pointed out that federal court requires those facing felony charges to be physically present in the courtroom.

“I thought New Hampshire would have a similar law,” he said. “It wasn’t until last month I realized I was mistaken.”

Shurtleff said the lead prosecutor in Montgomery’s trial is petitioning the judge involved to order Montgomery to appear in court for his sentencing.

Shurtleff said if the judge denies the prosecutor’s petition to compel Montgomery to physically appear for sentencing, “a victim impact statement would be read, but it would be read to an empty chair at the defense’s table.”

“When the prosecutor filed his motion with the trial judge asking for his order, he said in his motion, and I paraphrase, that since Harmony Montgomery’s family and loved ones will be in court that day, Adam Montgomery should be there as well to hear from the court directly what his sentence will be,” Shurtleff added. “When I hear that phrase ‘Harmony Montgomery’s loved ones, ’ I feel that includes all of us, the citizens of New Hampshire.”

While the “Adam Montgomery Bill” passed out of committee unanimously, concerned Democrats are expected to file a floor amendment that would allow accused felons to skip their trials as Montgomery did, only requiring them to appear for sentencing.

“I intend to ask some of those (legal experts) if there are things we need to adjust in the bill,” Meuse said. Those can be addressed in a floor amendment.”