"In death penalty case, shocking statements from judge," is the Concord Monitor editorial from the Sunday edition.
Last week, the five justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard the appeal of the first death sentence levied in the state’s modern era. The court gave lawyers for Michael Addison, the man convicted of shooting and killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006, a full day to make their case. The legal team raised serious questions that are expected to take the court at least a year to answer. Pursuing the death penalty will consume months of the court’s time and millions of taxpayer dollars. That alone should give citizens reason to question whether the alleged benefits of capital punishment – there are none in our view – are worth the cost to society and the additional pain for all involved. But testimony at Wednesday’s proceeding raised a surprising, serious and immediate concern that speaks to the ability of the state’s high court to fairly decide whether to take a person’s life in the name of the state. We’re referring to statements by Justice Robert Lynn in a discussion about the fairness of admitting information, including the testimony of family members, of what an outstanding person Briggs was.
The line is not always clear between victim-witness statements that fairly inform a judge and jurors of the uniqueness of the person killed and statements designed to appeal to the emotion of jurors and potentially prejudice the outcome. The intent of the law is to treat everyone equally and not, as justices warned in a U.S. Supreme Court case that broadened the nature of admissible statements, “to imply that one victim is less valued than another. . . . for instance, that the killer of a hard-working, devoted parent deserves the death penalty, but the murderer of a reprobate does not.”
Lynn’s comments were made during a broad discussion of statements that bear on the character of the victim, but they nonetheless suggest a view that is disquieting and perhaps disqualifying.
We hope that Lynn was playing devil’s advocate to further the discussion. Because if he indeed so fundamentally misunderstands how the law applies in this instance, one is forced to question whether he should sit on the case.
Earlier coverage of the New Hampshire Supreme Court session begins at the link.