The New Hampshire Supreme Court — after a day of marathon arguments in the first death penalty case before the court in 50 years — now must decide if the state’s only death row inmate becomes the first convicted killer executed in New Hampshire since 1939.
Michael Addison was sentenced to death for gunning down Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006, as Briggs was attempting to arrest him on armed robbery charges.
Addison’s lawyers have raised numerous issues on appeal, including the trial judge’s decision not to move the trial out of Manchester, where the courthouse is located roughly 100 yards from police headquarters.
Attorney David Rothstein argued Wednesday that holding the trial in Manchester injected passion and prejudice into the death verdict — fueled by prosecutors’ arguments to jurors that Briggs died protecting the community from Addison, an outsider.
“The watershed event in this case was not moving the trial out of that courthouse,” Rothstein argued.
But Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock argued that the killing of a police officer — though rare in New Hampshire — is not tantamount to an act of terrorism and mass murder.
"Addison decision not expected for at least a year," by Dale Vincent in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
New Hampshire Supreme Court Justices had many and pointed questions Wednesday about the issues raised in the appeal of Michael Addison's first-degree murder conviction and death penalty sentence.
Family members of both slain Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs and Addison sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. Many Manchester police officers sat with the Briggs family, including Capt. Nick Willard, who headed the investigation into the 2006 shooting. Also present was Officer Daniel Doherty, who was shot earlier this year and seriously wounded. His accused shooter, Myles Webster, is scheduled for trial in December.
Outside the Supreme Court building, protesters carried banners opposing the death penalty. Among them was John Breckinridge, Briggs' partner on the night he was shot. Now retired, Breckinridge opposes the death penalty for religious reasons, said Arnie Alpert, a death penalty opponent.
The Addison appeal cites 22 issues and the Supreme Court grouped them in four sections in the morning and afternoon sessions.
Among the issues: the court's refusal of a change of venue; wording of instructions given to the jury before deliberations; aggravating factors presented during sentencing; evidence of past crimes the state was allowed to present; and the refusal of then-Attorney General and current U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to accept a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. An assistant attorney general countered that the plea offer was rejected as hollow.
David Rothstein, the deputy appellate public defender, also challenged the refusal to allow a letter that the defense claims supports the idea that Ayotte was thinking about her political career when she made decisions such as what charge to bring and whether to accept a plea bargain. Ayotte personally prosecuted the case, which ended with a conviction in December 2008, then resigned seven months later, three months into a new four-year term as attorney general, to run for the U.S. Senate.
Rothstein returned again and again to the jury instructions. He said they were a "substantial deviation" from standard instructions, arguing the state said the jury could convict even if there was a possibility of innocence.
The Concord Monitor reports, "Addison’s lawyers dispute death sentence before state Supreme Court." It's by Tricia L. Nadolny.
Lawyers for Michael Addison disputed his death sentence before the state Supreme Court yesterday by attacking from all directions, taking issue with how he was tried, how he was sentenced and the state’s capital punishment statute itself.
As the justices questioned from the bench, the testimony turned several times to the same issue at the core of Addison’s 2008 trial: whether he acted purposefully or in a moment of panic when he fatally shot Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.
Yesterday the state said jurors made the right call when deciding Addison knew what he was doing when he fired at Briggs on Oct. 16, 2006.
The jury’s decision to impose the death penalty, which came after a three-part trial that stretched nine weeks, makes Addison the first person sentenced to die under New Hampshire’s modern capital punishment statute. The case was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court, which will now weigh – likely over the next six months to a year, according to state officials – whether the trial was fair.
Addison’s lawyers have asked the court not just to vacate his death sentence but to give him a new trial, saying that while they admit Addison shot Briggs, they believe the trial was fundamentally flawed.
Earlier coverage of the unique New Hampshire Supreme Court session begins at the link.