NH Supreme Court Ruling and NHCADP Response

Listen to Discussion of NH Supreme Court Ruling on
the Exchange on NHPR 11.7.13

On the Show:

  • John Greabe – professor at UNH School of Law, specializing in constitutional law
  • Josh Rogers – NHPR’s senior political reporter
  • Renny Cushing – Democratic representative from Hampton and longtime advocate for repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. He has announced his plan to sponsor legislation to repeal the death penalty this year.
  • Charlie Putnam – clinical associate professor of Justice Studies at UNH and co-director of Justiceworks

Link to program page with audio on NHPR.org

NH Supreme Court rules: Death penalty stands for Addison

by MARK HAYWARD, New Hampshire Union Leader, 11.6.13

The New Hampshire Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling today affirmed the conviction of cop-killer Michael Addison but said his death sentence would still be under review.

In a decision released this afternoon, justices said there was no reversible error in the 2008 conviction and sentencing of Addison, who killed Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in a center-city alley on Oct. 16, 2006, “With respect to the issues raised by the defendant on appeal, we find no reversible error. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant’s conviction for capital murder,” reads the introduction to the 250-page decision. “Furthermore, we conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances.”Justices said, however, said additional legal briefs and oral arguments will have to be held on whether the sentence is proportional to similar cases.

Addison’s death penalty conviction was the first in decades in New Hampshire. It followed a two-month trial in 2008 in Hillsborough County Superior Court North. The decision was released at 1 p.m. online by the Supreme Court. The decision was written by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis.

The ruling came more than seven years after Manchester bicycle patrol officer Michael Briggs was gunned down in the line of duty.

[spoiler title=”Read More”] It was the first modern-era death penalty case in New Hampshire history with the high court asked to rule on 22 issues raised by defense attorneys for Addison, 33, including several challenges to the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty law. The issues include the constitutionality of the death penalty, the judge’s refusal to move the trial out of Manchester, jury instructions, evidence of Addison’s criminal past and the prosecution’s refusal to accept a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty.

Addison was convicted by a jury after a two-month trial that ended Dec. 22, 2008. Officer Briggs was fatally shot in the head Oct. 16, 2006, and died the next day.

Addison is a former Boston street gang member and the state’s sole death-row inmate. He was convicted of capital murder, and the jury found him eligible for the death penalty, recommending that he be sentenced to death.

Addison is the first person to be sentenced to death since 1959 and the first to receive a death sentence under the state’s capital murder law, which went into effect in 1991. In the 1959 case, Frederick Martineau and Russell Nelson were convicted of murdering a Nashua businessman scheduled to testify in a Rhode Island burglary case. Both men received 13 stays of execution and were spared the death penalty by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another murder case, indicating a “unitary” trial violated the Eighth Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment. In another 1976 murder case, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated a “bifurcated” trial in which guilt and sentence were determined separately.

The last person to be executed in New Hampshire was Alton storekeeper Howard Long, in 1939. Long was hanged for molesting and fatally beating a 10-year-old Laconia boy.

In the ruling released today, the court had a wide range of options available in ruling on the mandatory appeal. State law requires the state Supreme Court to conduct an automatic review of any capital murder conviction in which the death penalty is imposed.

It could have affirmed Addison’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. It could have found the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional and unenforceable, in which case Addison’s sentence would be converted to life in prison without possibility of parole. Or it could have found reversible errors and ordered an entirely new trial or ordered a new trial on any of the three phases.

In 1834, Democratic Gov. William Badger was the first to ask the Legislature to abolish the death penalty, and the 2014 General Court will try again. Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was gunned down by an off-duty Hampton police officer, is the prime sponsor of a 2014 bill to abolish capital punishment.

The 2000 Legislature approved abolishing the death penalty, but former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it. In 2010, the House approved abolishing capital punishment, but the Senate killed the bill before former Gov. John Lynch could veto it. In the 2014 session, the repeal is expected to pass the House, but the Senate vote is expected to be close.

In a limited statement, Attorney General Joe Foster said this afternoon it has been seven years since Briggs was killed, and he recognized that family, friends and co-workers still suffer the loss.

“That decision is lengthy and complicated, which is appropriate given the magnitude of the loss the Briggs family has suffered and the penalty allowed by the law,” the statement reads. “We will be reviewing the decision in the coming weeks to determine its full ramifications and to consider the next appropriate steps in seeking justice in this case.”

Manchester Police Chief David Mara and Addison’s appellate attorney David Rothstein are both expected to make statements later this afternoon.

Union Leader reporters Kathryn Marchocki and Garry Rayno contributed to this story. [link to to original article][/spoiler]

NHCADP RESPONSE TO SUPREME COURT RULING

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty expressed its intense disappointment with the state Supreme Court’s decision affirming Michael Addison’s death sentence and called for the death penalty to be repealed before the state repeats a “pointless exercise.”

“The taxpayers of New Hampshire have been sold a rotten bill of goods. The State has spent millions of dollars to seek Michael Addison’s death, despite his willingness to plead guilty to killing Officer Briggs and go to prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole,” said Barbara Keshen, the Coalition’s Chairperson.

She said the decision will add fuel to the Coalition’s efforts for death penalty repeal in 2014.

“New Hampshire has already invested seven years and five million taxpayer dollars on this pointless exercise. This is only the beginning; years of litigation and unknown financial investments still lie ahead before this case is resolved,” said Keshen, who formerly worked as a homicide prosecutor and homicide defense attorney.

The NH Supreme Court still has to review the “comparative proportionality” of the sentence, which Keshen noted will take up more judicial time and money.

“Even one death sentence is a distraction from the real needs of New Hampshire citizens and communities impacted by violent crime. We are no safer than if Addison were sentenced to life in prison without parole,” Keshen said.  “Why are we investing exorbitant sums of money on one case when there are 120 cold cases in New Hampshire and no funds for a cold case investigative unit at the Department of Justice? State resources spent seeking a single death sentence could have been used to provide meaningful compensation to victims of crime, put additional police on the street, or take steps we know would reduce crime. The death penalty meets none of these needs.”

Rep. Cushing: Death penalty debate not over

by NICK B. REID, Seacoast Online, 11.07.13

HAMPTON — State Rep. Renny Cushing said he understands that the state’s top court upholding the capital murder conviction of Michael Addison will create some buzz about the death penalty, but he said it won’t affect his efforts to repeal capital punishment.

“This decision really has no impact on legislation that would be introduced next year,” he said, noting that the bill he is filing would be prospective and wouldn’t apply to Addison, who fatally shot Manchester Police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

[spoiler title=”Read More”] But Cushing said he does think that the decision, detailed in a 240-page report released Wednesday afternoon a year after arguments were made, will “illustrate how complicated the death penalty is as an issue.”

Cushing — a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in a crime some would argue warrants the death penalty, but who has always been an opponent of capital punishment — notes that approximately $5 million has already been spent on Addison’s case in investigation expenses, the attorney general’s office’s expenses, and Addison’s public defender supplied to him because he’s indigent. And this appeal won’t be the last appeal dealing with this case, Cushing said.

The Wednesday decision states that Addison received a fair trial, Cushing said. What is still left to be decided is whether, constitutionally, the punishment fits the crime.

“Is the sentence that’s imposed on him constitutional based on the requirement that a sentence be proportional to the crime?” Cushing asked. That question will be answered in a separate appeal process that examines both the New Hampshire and U.S. Constitutions.

“The Supreme Court didn’t decide the issue today on the death penalty itself,” Cushing said. “There’ll be a whole new round of briefs and oral arguments and then another decision that will be made. They probably won’t reach that decision (on the state level) ’til 2016. … I don’t think the federal appeals would be done till a few years after that.”

And Cushing said he expects the wheels of justice to turn even a bit slower than usual in that case, since it’s the first time New Hampshire has used the death penalty law since it was enacted in 1973 and altered in the mid-1980s.

“There’s absolutely no precedent,” he said.

He said the process is necessarily slow and tedious because of the extreme consequences if the prosecutors were to have made a mistake.

“The reason we do it is because we hope we do get it right,” he said. “They don’t want to kill an innocent person.”

And in the meantime, the state has many other cases that have to be attended to as well.

“This one has just used up a lot of resources. … There’s a fundamental underlying legal precedent that everyone recognizes that death is different,” he said.[/spoiler]

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