Monthly Archives: January 2015

In this case, silence is the golden rule

by Ray Duckler, Concord Monitor, Friday January 16, 2015
(Link to original)

MHawthorn-ConcMon 1.15.15
GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge, who lost her daughter to homicide in 2010, stands outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court during the half hour silent vigil Thursday.

Sometimes, a half-hour of silence says a lot.

Take yesterday, for example, in front of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. No one said a word from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m., yet the voices were loud and clear, varied in their reasoning, common in their goal.

Some members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty believe execution solves nothing. Others worry about state hypocrisy, that killing killers is wrong. Still others use the mercy rule, the one about forgiveness and spiritual growth, the one about loving thy neighbor, even if that neighbor has killed a husband and father, in this case, a cop.

They gathered outside, 22 of them, in nose-running cold and held their silent vigil, trying to bring attention to the hearing inside. There, a fireplace roared like a postcard and the state’s highest court heard testimony in Michael Addison’s appeal.

Addison killed Officer Michael Briggs in a dark Manchester alley Oct. 16, 2006. Briggs, then 35, had approached Addison, a suspect in a recent crime spree. Addison shot once, hitting Briggs in the head.

Addison has since been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die, the state’s first death sentence in more than 50 years. New Hampshire’s last execution happened in 1939.

We knew the appeals process and the protests and the differing points of view would surface after the trial, and that’s precisely what’s happened.

The justices upheld Addison’s conviction in 2013. Now comes the part about proportionality, the word of the day in court yesterday. The justices must measure the fairness of Addison’s sentence when compared with the reasoning behind other death sentences across the country.

To those I spoke to, though, comparisons were a waste of time, because this punishment should never be carried out, here, there, or anywhere.

“The loss of Officer Briggs was horrible, but execution does not make it any better,” said John Tobin, the executive director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Tobin is part of the unmistakable irony connected to this issue, a victim of violent crime who, more than anybody, would be expected to seek revenge, but who, instead, pushes hard the other way.

Tobin’s sister was murdered during a robbery more than 30 years ago in South Africa. The man convicted was put to death, yet there was Tobin, shivering outside, relaying a message, showing compassion.

“The execution didn’t make me feel any better,” Tobin said.

Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge was there too, holding a sign that read, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Hawthorn’s daughter, Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, was shot and killed during a home invasion in Henniker in 2010. The killer, a Haitian immigrant who told a fellow inmate that he went to the home to rape Molly, was sentenced to 42 years.

Molly was nearing a degree in nursing. Her father, Bruce MacDougall, told me by phone that she loved gardening, studied pottery in Japan and sang a lot.

Margaret, meanwhile, lobbied lawmakers to repeal the death penalty after her daughter’s death. She failed, but she’s still trying.

“We all come about it from different places, but this has to do with respecting human life,” Hawthorn told me. “Knowing this from the day she died, I made a statement to the press that we would not turn to hatred or make room for vengeance. It’s self protective more than anything else. If we allowed that to find room in our hearts, we would be in a place we never could get out of emotionally.

“Vengeance is never sweet,” Hawthorn continued. “It always has a way of kicking you in the teeth, so don’t go there.”

While people like Hawthorn and Tobin shared their tragic stories outside, Andru Volinksy, a fellow coalition member and commercial litigator, sat inside, in the third row, showing support for the defense team of David Rothstein and Chris Johnson as they tried to save Addison’s life.

Reached by phone before the hearing, Volinsky told me that the attorney general at the time of the Addison trial, Kelly Ayotte, failed to show that Addison had intentionally killed Briggs, nor did she show that Addison would be a danger while incarcerated.

“And we’re going to kill him nonetheless?” Volinksy asked.

He cited the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of Addison’s sentence. Why did John Brooks of Derry get a life sentence for his murder-for-hire conviction in 2008? Why not death, like Addison got?

“It’s clear the middle-age wealthy white male who was prosecuted for capital murder at that same time got life,” Volinsky said. “He hired a contract killer. The defendant’s wealth and race should not be factors.”

Volinsky also mentioned his moral beliefs, that the state has no business killing someone in the name of justice. That served as the vigil’s main message as well.

Coalition members stood in two lines, perpendicular from one another, holding signs that read, “Execute justice, not people,” and “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong,” and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”

They held their signs and stood in silence, and when the half-hour ended, they formed a circle and introduced themselves.

Minutes later, Hawthorn and Tobin, two victims, met for the first time.

“I have found the most peace while doing this,” Hawthorn said.

“I know what you mean,” was all Tobin said, on a day of very few words.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Gov. Perry’s enduring stain

By Stephen Saloom

gov-rick-perryAs his term ends, Gov. Perry’s legacy will be greatly debated. His supporters will say he was a great conservative, upholder of morality and master of political control. His detractors will examine the other sides of those coins. There is room for great debate.

One thing, however, cannot be debated. Perry wrongly affirmed Texas’ killing of an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham.

What’s worse is that when evidence of his error emerged from various corners, he ignored it – and at times, actively sought to suppress it.

As we consider Perry’s legacy, and his qualities as a candidate for higher office, this major element of his tenure must be considered.

The wrongful conviction and execution of Willingham began with a fire that broke out while he and his little girls were asleep. He woke up amidst flames and ran out — then realized that his three little girls were trapped inside. They died.

Arson investigators concluded that the fire had been set. A jailhouse informant said Willingham confided that he intentionally killed his children. Willingham’s defense lawyer was unable — and potentially even uninterested — to meet the challenge.

Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.

Appellate courts found no legal errors. Before the execution date, however, the Willingham family learned of scientific evidence disproving the arson evidence and directed this new evidence to the Governor. He heads the clemency process, which is meant to be the fail-safe against such injustices.

The Willinghams sought a temporary reprieve from the execution. It was based on the report of one of the world’s top fire scientists (a Texan, no less), which explained why the arson evidence used was completely unreliable. The Willinghams informed Perry’s staff about the report and their impending request for a temporary reprieve to enable close scrutiny of that now-questioned evidence.

Perry received the expert with plenty of time and justification to grant a temporary reprieve — but he chose not to. Willingham was executed.

Public questions began to arise. There was a comparison of the Texas court’s handling of Willingham’s arson/murder conviction versus that of Ernest Willis, who had been convicted and sentenced to death in an arson case strikingly similar to that of Willingham. In Willis’ case, however, when the prosecutor learned of the new arson science, he moved to vacate the conviction. Because that evidence was recognized in his case, Willis was declared innocent and lives today.

The radically different dispositions in these similar arson cases gave rise to a review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which, in light of today’s science, found it “untenable” to support arson findings based on such evidence.

In fact, the Texas Fire Marshal is now investigating past arson cases, and Attorney General Greg Abbott affirmed their propriety. On a related note, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently affirmed the Texas Legislature’s new law, which allows courts to reconsider discredited forensic evidence.

The arson evidence against Willingham was undeniably misleading. The only other “evidence” of Willingham’s guilt was jailhouse snitch testimony. The informant has now – again – said that his evidence was a lie, offered only because he had been (secretly) promised leniency. Prosecutorial misconduct has now been claimed.

Mr. Willingham’s innocence has now been well established. Since Mr. Willingham has already been executed, however, it is not the courts but Perry — and the Board of Pardons and Paroles he politically controls — who have the unique power to clear his name.

When presented with an application for that pardon, however, Perry refused to accept a visit from the surviving family members, who have politely but steadfastly sought justice for decades. Perry’s board’s denial of pardon was unexplained, yet conveniently spared him from having to act on it.

As his tenure came to a close, Perry had a clear opportunity to enable the pardon of Willingham. Instead he spun on his heel and walked away, refusing to acknowledge in any way his government’s terrible wrong.

Perry claims to be a conservative, religious and moral leader. As we consider his legacy, however, and his potential fitness for higher office, we must soberly assess his role in this injustice that he uniquely perpetuated.

Saloom is former policy director at the Innocence Project.

 Originally published 1/3/15 in the Austin American-Stateseman