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Bail Reform Brings Sununu, Sherman Together

Changing New Hampshire’s bail reform system, which critics say allows dangerous criminals to walk free, is a top priority for both Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. 

“There should be outrage and appetite for change,” Sununu told WMUR’s Adam Sexton this weekend.

Sununu signed a bail reform bill in his first term after being assured it would balance public safety and the goal of avoiding putting non-violent offenders in jail for minor offenses. Instead, critics say, serious criminals are being released and reoffending.

“I signed it because it had the support of law enforcement,” Sununu said. “I said ‘Will this work?’ Everyone believed it would be OK, so we signed it. But we all see what was happening.”

Sununu was referencing the August murder of an elderly Manchester man by a suspect who had been arrested twice in the weeks leading up to the stabbing.

Manchester resident Daniel Whitmore, 75, was found with multiple stab wounds on a walking trail near Bradley Street in August. The suspect in the murder, homeless man Raymond Moore, 40, had been arrested twice last summer. Once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August for another apparent stabbing incident. He was released from custody, and without bail, in both cases.

Manchester’s Democratic Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the state’s lenient bail system.

“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.

During his own WMUR appearance last weekend, Sherman also voiced support for changing New Hampshire’s bail laws to keep violent suspects locked up.

“Do I support rebalancing bail reform? Absolutely. Do I support protecting people from violent criminals? I always have,” Sherman said.

Sherman and Sununu supported the effort this year to change bail laws, but that proposal died in the legislature when the House voted it down. The bill lost support largely from Democratic members. Sherman said too many people did not seem to understand how the bill would work.

“The solution is we have to recognize — whatever we do for bail reform, we have to make sure the system will support it,” Sherman said. “That was the problem. The system did not support, with adequate scrutiny, who was being released and who was not.”

Sununu blames the left, especially progressive organizations like New Hampshire’s ACLU, for blocking the bail reform effort.

“You have the ACLU, these extreme left-wing groups that say they do not want to change anything,” Sununu said. “You have individuals that get arrested, they are getting out before the cop that arrested them has done the paperwork. It is messed up,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire’s ACLU claims the bail laws allowing more people to be released from custody has made New Hampshire safer. They say instead of finding ways to keep more violent suspects locked up, the legsilators should fund more community needs.

“Lawmakers should focus our limited tax dollars on investments that will actually make our communities safer and more just, like housing, transportation, and mental health and substance use treatment,” the ACLU stated earlier this year. “Pretrial detention has a devastating human toll. Even for a short period of time, it increases the likelihood of innocent people pleading guilty to a crime, loss of employment, income, and housing, and traumatic family disruption.”

The conservative Americans for Prosperity also opposed this year’s bail reform efforts, but it does support changes to the law. Ross Connolly, AFP’s deputy state director, said the organization wants to see bail commissioners replaced with magistrate judges when it comes to deciding who can be released and who needs to stay locked up.

“Pre-trial detention is a balance between public safety and the presumption of innocence,” Connolly said. “We understand the concerns with bail, and there is a way to address the issue without throwing out individual rights. Replacing bail commissioners with a magistrate system is a fix that all sides can get behind.  A magistrate system will improve public safety, will pass the legislature, and will cost Granite State taxpayers less than other proposals.” 

After Years of Bucking National Trends, NH Murder Rate Rising — Fast

Early Sunday morning, Hooksett Police found the body of Jason Wirtz, stabbed in the neck and bleeding, on Main Street. Later that day, they arrested Dillon Sleeper, age 26, formerly of Franklin, and charged him with second-degree murder.

It was the 17th homicide in New Hampshire, a state that’s averaged 18 murders a year since 2017. And it’s still July.

New Hampshire is generally one of the safest states in the country when it comes to violent crime in general and homicide in particular, according to FBI records. It’s certain to blow past its average murder rate this year.

“We’ve responded to 14 separate callouts for investigations that have involved 16 different deceased individuals,” said Michael Garrity, director of communications for Attorney General John Formella said Friday. “These include matters where investigations involved allegations of self-defense/defense of another.”

Among the dead this year is a Hudson infant who died last month in what is now considered suspicious circumstances. The 15-day-old infant was taken from the parents’ home, at an apartment on Burns Hill Road in Hudson, to a local hospital in medical distress. While the case is deemed suspicious, the official cause and manner of death are still pending an autopsy.

Most suspicious deaths are resolved quickly by law enforcement. For example, earlier this month Timothy Hill, 72, of Winchester, was found shot in his home. Police soon arrested Keegan Duhaime, 26, of Winchester, and charged him with two counts of second-degree murder.

In some cases, the alleged killer is already dead by the time police arrive, as in the recent Alstead incident where authorities were called to a reported murder-suicide involving a man killing his domestic partner, then himself.

However, there are still unsolved cases in New Hampshire this year. The April murders of Concord couple Stephen and Djeswende Reid remain a mystery. Police recently announced a reward of $50,000 for information that leads to an arrest and indictment of whoever is responsible for their deaths.

According to law enforcement, the Reids left their home in the Alton Woods apartment complex on the afternoon of Monday, April 18, and went for a walk to the area of the Broken Ground Trails which are off Portsmouth Street in Concord. Family and friends did not see or hear from them. The Reids’ bodies were found in the early evening of April 21 in a wooded area near the Marsh Loop Trail.

Now, with a little more than five months left in the year, New Hampshire is on pace to beat the current five-year average of 18 homicides by the end of 2022.

The most recent FBI data runs through 2020, and it shows New Hampshire had one of the lowest homicide rates in the country that year with 12 total. In 2019, New Hampshire had a spike in homicide with 30. In 2018 there were 19 homicides, in 2017 there were 12, and in 2017 12 homicides were recorded.

While this year could reveal an uptick in murder, New Hampshire has historically seen a low ratio of violent crimes, as New Hampshire’s violent crime rate has dropped every year since 2017.

The state recorded the second-lowest violent crime rate in the country in 2020. According to the FBI data compiled from New Hampshire law enforcement agencies, the violent crime rate in New Hampshire was 195.7 incidents per 100,000 people in 2017. It fell to 146.4 per 100,000 in 2020.

Even as New Hampshire’s crime rate fell, it skyrocketed nationally. The FBI found a 30 percent spike in murders in 2020, and the violent crime rate went up to 398.5 incidents per 100,000 people.

President Joe Biden and his allies in Congress have proposed gun control laws to address the nation’s spike in violence. Last week the House Judiciary Committee passed a ban on rifles labeled “assault weapons” by politicians. The ban is backed by all four members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation.

However, Second Amendment advocates note the Granite State’s low crime rate is accompanied by one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the country–the second-highest number of guns per capita according to one survey. New Hampshire also makes it easy to buy guns. It’s also a relatively easy place to buy and own guns.

New Hampshire is the only New England state in the top 25 rankings for gun rights. Guns and Ammo rank the Granite State number 17 on its Best States for Gun Owners list, ahead of Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida. There are no bans on so-called “assault weapons” in New Hampshire.