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NH Supreme Court lets Addison murder conviction stand

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 06. 2013 1:04PM

MICHAEL K. ADDISON (Union Leader File Photo)

The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Michael Addison, who shot and killed Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006, but said more review would be needed before a final ruling could be reached on his death sentence.

In a 243-page, unanimous decision, the high court turned down all 22 challenges raised by Addison's lawyers.

In doing so, it upheld the constitutionality of the state's 1991 death penalty law. It also deemed as irrelevant an email in which the prosecutor, then-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, mentioned Addison's arrest to her political adviser. Ayotte is now a U.S. senator.

The justices said they found no reversible error in the 2008 conviction of Addison, who gunned down Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in a center-city alley on Oct. 16, 2006. Briggs, a bicycle officer, died the following day.

"Furthermore, we conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's findings of aggravating circumstances," Chief Justice Linda Dalianis wrote for the court.

However, the justices said additional legal briefs and oral arguments will have to be held to determine whether the sentence is proportional to similar cases.
"It illustrates that Michael Addison has had seven years of due process. He's had talented legal minds and attorneys represent him," Manchester Police Chief David Mara said. "Michael Briggs didn't get any of that."

He said the ordeal has been long for Briggs' family and his police department co-workers.

Addison's death-penalty conviction was the first in decades in New Hampshire. It followed a two-month trial in 2008 in Hillsborough County Superior Court North. Briggs was 35 at the time of his death and the father of two. Addison, a one-time member of a Boston street gang, was 26.

In a two-sentence statement, Addison's public defender said he disagrees with the decision. "We look forward to the opportunity to address the proportionality of the death sentence, and we will work as diligently on Mr. Addison's behalf in the future as we have over the last several years," wrote David M. Rothstein of the public defender's appellate bureau.

In a statement, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union said years of litigation likely lie ahead before the case is resolved.

"The state has already spent millions of dollars pursuing the death penalty in this case, though the defendant was willing to plead guilty for a prison sentence of life without parole," said the statement, issued by Executive Director Devon Chaffee.

In a brief statement, Attorney General Joe Foster said he recognized that family, friends and co-workers still suffer the loss. "That decision is lengthy and complicated, which is appropriate given the magnitude of the loss the Briggs family has suffered and the penalty allowed by the law," the statement reads. "We will be reviewing the decision in the coming weeks to determine its full ramifications and to consider the next appropriate steps in seeking justice in this case."

The appeal addresses 22 issues with either the trial or sentencing phase of the trial. They include the constitutionality of the death penalty, the judge's refusal to move the trial out of Manchester, jury instructions, evidence of Addison's criminal past and the prosecution's refusal to accept a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. Addison is the first person to be sentenced to death since 1959, and the first to receive a death sentence under the state's capital murder law, which went into effect in 1991. The state law requires an automatic judicial review of any death penalty conviction. Wednesday's decision is the result of that law.

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