Metro

In N.H., violent criminals must appear for victim statements

Bob Marriott held a large photo of his daughter Elizabeth Marriott as he looked at Seth Mazzaglia (seated left) during an August 2014 sentencing hearing in Strafford County Superior Court in Dover, N.H.
Jim Cole/Associated Press/File
Bob Marriott held a large photo of his daughter Elizabeth Marriott as he looked at Seth Mazzaglia (seated left) during an August 2014 sentencing hearing in Strafford County Superior Court in Dover, N.H.

There have been no recorded attempts on his life, but state Representative Renny Cushing of New Hampshire considers himself a homicide survivor.

Cushing, whose 63-year-old-father was killed in 1988, said the murder of a loved one is traumatic and disempowering.

“It tosses away everything you think you know about humanity,” Cushing said. “My father’s killer exercised more power over my life than anyone else.”

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For Cushing and others, an important step in the journey from homicide victim to survivor is the victim impact statement, where those affected by violent crimes have a chance to address the convicted criminal at a sentencing hearing.

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This week, New Hampshire became the first state in the country to require convicted violent criminals to appear at sentencing hearings, thus requiring them to listen to victim impact statements.

The new law was sponsored by Cushing and a coalition of six bipartisan legislators. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Cushing believes the law will ensure that those affected by violent crimes will have their voices heard, while also holding criminals accountable.

And he would know: The five-term state representative gave a victim impact statement during the trial of his father’s killer.

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“It’s not about changing the past but reclaiming the future. You want to say. ‘I’m here, I survived, and my existence will overcome your evil,’ ” Cushing said. “[The impact statement] was the only time that I felt like a stakeholder in the process or felt that I had any dignity.”

Cushing introduced the law after a high-profile murder trial last year, in which a convicted killer and rapist initially resisted appearing at a sentencing hearing in New Hampshire.

Seth Mazzaglia, 32, was sentenced to life in prison for killing 19-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott of Massachusetts and raping her lifeless body.

Yet after being convicted, Mazzaglia initially wanted to skip his sentencing hearing, citing the 14th Amendment.

According to a transcript of a prison phone call, the convicted killer said he did not want to hear the victim’s family, “yell and whine . . . and moan.”

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“It’s a waste of my time,” Mazzaglia said. “I already know what everyone’s gonna say there, so why the hell do I have to be there?”

‘It’s not about changing the past but reclaiming the future. You want to say. “I’m here, I survived, and my existence will overcome your evil.’’ ’

Mazzaglia eventually dropped his complaint and appeared in court for sentencing, but the incident was enough to push the New Hampshire Legislature to act.

Cushing introduced the law, created a bipartisan group of cosponsors, and invited Marriott’s family to testify during committee deliberation.

Bob Marriott, Lizzi’s father, told lawmakers of the pain his family experienced as Mazzaglia attempted to avoid appearing.

Susan Marriott, the victim’s grandmother, also spoke before the committee.

“From the day that the authorities told us that Lizzi was gone to the day that we got to stand in the courtroom, the focus was on the crime and the process,” Susan Marriott said at the time. “The victim impact statement is the time we have to confront the one who hurt us, a powerful step in allowing us to move forward. If a convict is allowed to skip this part of the process, the people who suffer are the victims of the crime.”

State Representative Laura Pantelakos, a cosponsor, said the testimony of the Marriott family was important in creating the political will to pass the law.

“The father especially was very influential for this,” Pantelakos said. “It’s not an easy process to get this passed in the New Hampshire Legislature, but this is something we felt like needed to get done.”

Cushing, too, played a critical role in calming the fears of opponents, who argued that the new law would infringe on the rights of accused individuals.

He said because the law only affects those convicted of violent crimes, not accused parties, due process had run its course.

Buried in Article 18 of the New Hampshire Constitution, written in 1784, is a line stating that “the true design of all punishments” is to “reform, not to exterminate mankind.”

Cushing cites this line as the law’s ultimate justification, because criminal reformation cannot happen without accountability, he said.

“We cannot pretend that nothing happened or that people have not been hurt,” Cushing said. “And for that, I’m glad New Hampshire can take the lead.”

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.