EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 18, 2008

Cop killer gets 1st NH death sentence in 49 years


MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Convicted cop killer Michael Addison has received the first death sentence in New Hampshire in almost 50 years. Addison, 28, had no reaction as the Hillsborough County Superior Court jury announced its verdict after about 13 hours of deliberation. He was convicted last month of killing a Manchester police officer two years ago.

The judge must formally impose the sentence, but cannot change it.

New Hampshire hasn't executed anyone since 1939 and hasn't sentenced anyone to death since 1959.

In 2004, a federal judge in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty, ordered convicted killer Gary Sampson executed in New Hampshire, but Sampson is appealing. Jurors unanimously agreed that Addison deserves to die for purposely shooting Officer Michael Briggs to avoid being arrested.

Addison's lawyers argued that his abusive childhood and possible brain damage from his mother's heavy drinking while she was pregnant warranted a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Addison had been on a crime spree the week before the shooting and had said he would "pop a cop" if necessary to avoid arrest.

Briggs, 35, and his bicycle patrol partner came across Addison and friend Antoine Bell-Rogers walking in an alley early on Oct. 16, 2006. Briggs recognized the men as a suspects in a recent shooting and two armed robberies and ordered them to stop. Addison turned and shot Briggs in the head at close range, testimony showed.

The defense admitted on the first day of the trial that Addison killed Briggs, but said the act was reckless, not intentional.

"It was fast and it was totally unplanned," defense attorney David Rothstein said in his opening statement. "It was a reckless act that ended in a terrible tragedy."

Prosecutors called the shooting cold-blooded and premeditated, pointing to Addison's threat to "pop a cop."

"That fatal shot was no accident. It was no reckless misjudgment or panic-driven mistake," Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said in her opening statement. "That shot was another choice in a series of choices made by the defendant. It was a conscious and deadly choice to pull the trigger and end Officer Briggs' life."

The trial was in three phases: the jury first convicted Addison of capital murder and then concluded he was eligible for the death penalty. In that verdict, the jury ruled that Addison purposely inflicted the injury that killed Briggs, but rejected the state's claim that he purposely killed Briggs.

The defense cited that conclusion during the trial's final, sentencing phase as grounds for sparing Addison's life.

The defense also pointed to Addison's absentee parents and rocky childhood as grounds for mercy. His mother, Cheryl Kiser, drank heavily, used drugs, and was known for violent outbursts, while his father, Michael Wilson, smoked crack throughout Addison's childhood and was rarely there for his son.

"None of this information is offered as an excuse or as a justification for anything that Michael did," said defense attorney Richard Guerriero. "He is responsible for the choices he made as an adult, but you also have to recognize he could not control the choices that were made for him as a child."

The prosecution emphasized the emotional toll Briggs' murder took on his wife, two young sons and other family members and friends, and pointed to Addison's long criminal record.

That record included pointing a loaded revolver at another student's head in high school and pulling the trigger twice. The gun didn't fire.

Ayotte said Addison faces decades in prison for other convictions, so sentencing him to life would amount to a free pass for Briggs' murder.

"The flaws in his childhood simply cannot replace the pain and suffering that he has inflicted on innocent victims throughout adult life," she argued. "There are millions (and) millions of people in this country who unfortunately come from far, far worse backgrounds than the defendant and they don't go out and harm and murder people. That was his choice. ... It's shameful the defendant is using his deceased mother as an excuse for the repeated devastation that he has caused and his own choices he made as an adult."

The state Supreme Court will automatically review the conviction and sentence. If the court upholds both, an appeal by the defense is virtually certain, likely raising constitutional claims rejected by Judge Kathleen McGuire. Among them is that Addison couldn't get a fair trial in Manchester, and that requiring judges to impose a death sentence decided by a jury is unconstitutional.

Legal experts note that New Hampshire's death penalty law, unlike laws in states such as Texas, has not been tested extensively in court. Law professor Albert Scherr said that process could take several years, and federal challenges could follow if state courts uphold the law and conviction.

In October, a jury in Brentwood handed down the state's first capital murder conviction since 1959 in the murder-for-hire case of millionaire John Brooks. But the jury gave Brooks life without parole, the only alternative to the death penalty in the capital murder statute.