Fairness of death sentence reviewed

N.H. court looks to other states

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / October 7, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court said it will review the fairness of Michael Addison’s death sentence against cases in other states in which a police officer was killed in the line of duty.

The court’s ruling sets the groundwork for deciding whether Addison becomes the first person executed in New Hampshire since 1939. Addison is on death row for gunning down Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs four years ago as Briggs attempted to arrest him on robbery charges.

Addison’s lawyers said they will ask the court to reconsider its ruling, saying the test devised by the justices excludes the only other New Hampshire capital case in decades to go to a penalty phase, that of murder-for-hire convict John Brooks.

Brooks was convicted in 2008 of plotting and paying for the murder of a handyman he suspected of stealing from him. The jury opted to give him life in prison without parole.

The court said in its ruling yesterday that Brooks’s case would not come into play in the Addison review because he was not convicted of killing a police officer.

“We have one other capital verdict in this state that was almost contemporaneous with the Addison verdict,’’ attorney David Rothstein said. “At what point should there be an explanation of why New Hampshire jurors saved one person and sentenced another to death.’’

Addison’s lawyers also argued the court should examine the case of Gordon Perry, who fatally shot an Epsom police officer in 1997. Prosecutors agreed to let Perry plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The court agreed that comparisons with in-state cases is preferable, because they reflect local community values, but said the pool of capital cases in New Hampshire is too small.

Defense lawyers have 10 days to file their motion for reconsideration, but Rothstein said they may ask for an extension.

In its 41-page unanimous ruling, the justices rejected another defense proposal that Addison’s case be compared with all death penalty-eligible cases in New Hampshire and other states to determine whether racial bias or other factors influenced his sentence. Addison is black; Briggs was white.

“The comparison case inventory is restricted to cases in which the defendant committed the same kind of capital murder,’’ Chief Justice John Broderick wrote.

The decision is the first in more than 40 years to set the standard in New Hampshire for measuring the fairness of a death verdict. Addison’s death sentence is the first in the state since the US Supreme Court declared capital sentencing schemes unconstitutional in 1972, then four years later allowed states to again impose death sentences if their laws met strict guidelines to safeguard against arbitrariness.

The court stressed that comparison cases do not have to precisely mirror the details of Addison’s case.

“Ultimately, no two capital murder defendants are alike,’’ the ruling says.

Attorney Chuck Douglas, who filed a brief on behalf of the state’s four major law enforcement associations, said his clients will be satisfied with the test the court devised.

“There are, unfortunately, enough cases around the country where criminals have killed a police officer in the line of duty with premeditation, as opposed to wrestling over a gun that goes off,’’ Douglas said.

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