Sunday, November 10, 2013 — It is to the significant credit of the prosecutors in the capital murder case against Michael Addison that their arguments withstood numerous strong arguments from defense attorneys before the New Hampshire Supreme Court. It is to the significant credit of the lower court judge that the process was deemed fair.
But it is to the extreme detriment of New Hampshire as a whole that Addison is now one step closer to death. This week’s ruling should strengthen the resolve of those working to overturn the state’s death penalty statute, to keep New Hampshire government from ever again playing executioner in our name.
Addison is the man who shot a Manchester police officer to death in 2006. His victim, Michael Briggs, was a 35-year-old father of two from Concord. The shooting followed a weeklong crime spree, after which then-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte called Addison a “cold-blooded, coldhearted, remorseless killer” who deserved the death penalty for his crime. Addison’s lawyers said he fired the gun in a panic, that his actions were reckless but not purposeful. The jury sided with the state, and Addison was eventually sentenced to die, making him the only person on the state’s death row, in a state that hadn’t executed a soul since 1939.
About the same time, in a different courtroom, a different New Hampshire jury was weighing the case of John Brooks, a millionaire businessman accused of hiring three men to kill a handyman who Brooks believed had stolen from him. Brooks, like Addison, was convicted of capital murder, but his jury rejected the death penalty and sentenced him to life in prison instead.
Brooks was rich and white; Addison was poor and black. Brooks plotted his victim’s murder deliberately; Addison shot Briggs as he fled. Addison’s victim had the full force of New Hampshire law enforcement watching every twist and turn of the case; Brooks’s victim was little known and quickly forgotten. Different lawyers, different juries, different cases. But it’s difficult not to step back and wonder about the fairness of it all. In a state where the capital murder statute is rarely used, it’s hard to imagine two more starkly different outcomes.
The Addison case isn’t over – not by far. The state Supreme Court still must decide whether Addison’s death sentence was excessive or disproportionate compared with the penalties imposed in similar cases. Should the state win, there will no doubt be federal appeals that will take years to resolve.
In the meantime, state lawmakers should take advantage of the new opportunity granted them by a governor who, for the first time in the modern era, opposes the death penalty. They should repeal the capital punishment statute in 2014, knowing full well that the sentence meted out to Brooks – life in prison without parole – is justice enough for even the most remorseless killers. New Hampshire hasn’t used its death penalty in more than 70 years. We will be a better, fairer, more humane state without it.