EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 9, 2013

NH ruling on death row convict not the last word


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling this week that upheld the conviction and sentence of the state’s only death row convict is far from the last word.

The court will next review the fairness of Michael Addison’s death sentence by comparing it to cases in other states where jurors had to reach life-or-death verdicts on convicted cop killers.

Defense attorney David Rothstein said Friday he doesn’t anticipate arguments to happen before 2015 and Senior Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said there is still much more work to do before the appeal wraps up.

The justices unanimously upheld Addison’s conviction for gunning down Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. The court also upheld the constitutionality of his sentence, saying the jury was not swayed by passion or prejudice. The ruling marked the first time the New Hampshire high court had reviewed a death sentence in more than half a century.

The fairness review is to determine whether Addison’s sentence is excessive compared to similar cases. In phase one of Addison’s appeal, the justices in 2010 ruled that the pool of cases they would use for comparison would be only those in which a police officer was killed in the line of duty and the case reached the penalty phase.

Prosecutors said there were 49 such cases between 2000 and 2009.

Addison’s lawyers had argued that any comparison should also include the contract murder conviction of John Brooks, who was spared a death sentence by a New Hampshire jury in 2008. Brooks is a wealthy white man convicted of plotting and paying for the murder of a handyman he suspected of stealing from him. Addison, sentenced to die that same year, is a black man from a troubled family.

Brooks’ is the only other capital case to reach a penalty phase in New Hampshire in more than 50 years.

Rothstein said he may ask the court to reconsider its pool of comparison cases, but emphasized his focus will be on distinguishing Addison from others convicted of killing officers.

“The cornerstone of that focus will be based not only what the jury found, but what the jury did not find,” Rothstein said. He the jury found Addison did not intend to kill Briggs and would not prove a danger to others behind bars if sentenced to life without parole.

Rothstein noted that Addison, now 33, could not be put to death in Texas — which has executed 506 people since 1976 — because juries there must find the convict would be a danger behind bars before handing down a death sentence. Virginia, with the nation’s second highest execution rate during that time period, requires a finding of intent to be eligible for a death sentence, he said.

Rothstein said he is still studying the court’s 243-page ruling and will probably ask for an extension of the usual 10-day period to file a motion for reconsideration.

If appeals fail, Addison could become the first convict executed in New Hampshire since 1939.