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Addison’s lawyers dispute death sentence before state Supreme Court

  • John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012.  The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012. The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • David Rothstein, an attorney for Michael Addison, listens to questions from state Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Lynn during Addison's death penalty appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012 in Concord. This is the first death penalty appeal the court has heard in 50 years and if the appeal fails, Addison would be the first person executed since 1939. The court seats were full and outside there were about 30 people holding a silent vigil against capital punishment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    David Rothstein, an attorney for Michael Addison, listens to questions from state Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Lynn during Addison's death penalty appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012 in Concord. This is the first death penalty appeal the court has heard in 50 years and if the appeal fails, Addison would be the first person executed since 1939. The court seats were full and outside there were about 30 people holding a silent vigil against capital punishment.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012.  The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012. The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012.  The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)
  • David Rothstein, an attorney for Michael Addison, listens to questions from state Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Lynn during Addison's death penalty appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012 in Concord. This is the first death penalty appeal the court has heard in 50 years and if the appeal fails, Addison would be the first person executed since 1939. The court seats were full and outside there were about 30 people holding a silent vigil against capital punishment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)
  • John Breckenridge, center, was one of 30 people that held hands in a moment of silence after a silent vigil against the death penalty outside of the New Hampshire Supreme Court on November 14, 2012.  The group held the silent vigil before and after the hearings for Michael Addison's death sentence. Breckenridge was the partner of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs who was killed in 2006. Addison was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Briggs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

Lawyers for Michael Addison dis puted his death sentence before the state Supreme Court yesterday by attacking from all directions, taking issue with how he was tried, how he was sentenced and the state’s capital punishment statute itself.

As the justices questioned from the bench, the testimony turned several times to the same issue at the core of Addison’s 2008 trial: whether he acted purposefully or in a moment of panic when he fatally shot Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.

Yesterday the state said jurors made the right call when deciding Addison knew what he was doing when he fired at Briggs on Oct. 16, 2006.

The jury’s decision to impose the death penalty, which came after a three-part trial that stretched nine weeks, makes Addison the first person sentenced to die under New Hampshire’s modern capital punishment statute. The case was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court, which will now weigh – likely over the next 6 months to a year, according to state officials – whether the trial was fair.

Addison’s lawyers have asked the court not just to vacate his death sentence but to give him a new trial, saying that while they admit Addison shot Briggs, they believe the trial was fundamentally flawed.

Defense attorney David Rothstein yesterday said prosecutors showed a “lack of restraint” when describing three violent crimes Addison committed in the days before the shooting.

Jurors were shown a video of Addison robbing a 7-Eleven at gunpoint. They heard about how Addison had laughed when describing his gun jamming during that incident. And they were told that Addison had used cocaine after robbing a restaurant.

“The real question is what did the details of the armed robberies prove? The state said that the details of the armed robbery, in other words, hearing witnesses describe the armed robbery, what they proved is that he had some greater motivation to shoot a police officer because of those details. In our view ... that was not logical,” Rothstein said, adding that the state could have proven the robberies happened without piling on extraneous facts.

But Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock said the prior crimes were discussed in detail to show two specific things: motive and intent.

“As Michael Addison is standing in that dark alley and hears the officer coming in, calling out ‘Stop. Police,’ why doesn’t he run? Why doesn’t he just throw the gun off and take off? Instead he turns and shoots at the officer because he knows he had left behind a string of forensic evidence and a lot of witnesses that are going to put him in jail for an extended period of time.”

‘A Lot of Back-and-Forth’

Rothstein agreed that what Addison was thinking when he shot Briggs is critical to the case, and he thinks the defense was wrongfully denied a chance to shed light on that question.

In a three-hour interview shortly after his arrest, Addison denied repeatedly that he had the intent to kill or even to do harm, according to Rothstein. That tape was not allowed as evidence in the trial.

“He is being interrogated,” Rothstein said. “And he admits at a certain point that he shot Officer Briggs. . . . And there is a lot of back-and-forth interrogation where the police seem to be trying to get him to say that he knew it was a police officer and he had purpose to kill that police officer.”

Several justices told Rothstein the judge actually helped his case by deeming the interview, in which Addison initially lied about his involvement, unreliable.

“How were you going to handle (if Addison said,) ‘If I knew it was a police officer then I would have stopped. I would have stopped.’ ” Hicks asked. “That’s explosive in a trial like this.”

Rothstein agreed but said the interview wasn’t fully favorable for either side. Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said the state made a “tactical decision” to not protest the tape being played in court because they thought it would “frankly blow open the door to a lot of evidence.”

“You’re making the point I was making,” Hicks responded. “If I’m a trial judge, one of the last things I want to do is have a dynamite explosion in the middle of a case that has so far been fair and under control.”

Venue Challenged

Addison’s attorneys were deeply concerned not just by what was said during the trial but where it was said, arguing the case shouldn’t have been tried in Manchester, in a courthouse 100 yards from where Briggs started his last shift.

The community outrage was too high and media attention was too pervasive to allow for an impartial jury, Rothstein argued. He said Briggs was beloved by the community and called him a “one-of-a-kind police officer.”

Justice Robert Lynn asked if Briggs was well known before his death.

“He had gotten at least one special commendation for heroism,” Rothstein said.

Lynn clarified, saying he wondered if Briggs had been a public figure.

“I (was a judge) in Manchester for a number years, I think at least some of the years officer Briggs was a police officer,” Lynn said. “He may have testified in court but I don’t remember. And I don’t recall any of my colleagues suggesting something that this officer was very well known as opposed to, as opposed to other officers in the Manchester Police Department.”

Rothstein agreed that Briggs wasn’t a public figure, but noted that the coverage of his funeral, which included a procession through Manchester and a memorial at a baseball stadium, was like nothing the community had ever experienced.

But Woodcock disputed that the media attention made it impossible to hold a fair trial. She used the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon as an example of a case that couldn’t have been tried in the surrounding community because of pervasive public outrage.

“The community was interested in the outcome of the case. There were certainly people who felt strongly about it. . . . And there were some people . . . who hadn’t really paid that much attention to it,” she said. “It’s not that kind of heart-stopping event, even though it’s a tragedy.”

Susceptible to Prejudice?

Even if the jury was fairly selected, Addison’s attorneys argued that the group was inherently susceptible to prejudice because of the trials’ location. Rothstein said the state exploited that by portraying Briggs as a protector of the community and Addison as an outsider.

He said the state further capitalized on the disparity during sentencing by allowing extensive testimony from Briggs’s family, who spoke about him as a father, husband and brother.

But Justice Robert Lynn said it seems relevant for jurors to understand who the victim was.

“Why wouldn’t it be an appropriate factor for the jury to consider that ... the person that someone killed was going to be the next Einstein? That (he) was going to find a cure for cancer? That (he) was going to find, going to do some tremendous things as demonstrated by what they’ve done already, on the one hand, as opposed somebody who had a lesser potential,” Lynn said.

Rothstein said the testimony wouldn’t be arbitrary if the defendant knew the victim was “going to be the next Einstein” or knew how the crime would impact the victim’s family.

“In most circumstances, certainly in this circumstance or many other circumstances, who the victim is simply is an arbitrary factor,” he said.

But Lynn protested.

“Isn’t it more, quote unquote of a crime, you know, to kill the person who was going to find the cure for cancer than . . . someone whose potential was something less than that?” he asked.

In the state’s response, Woodcock said prosecutors didn’t cross the line when telling jurors about Briggs.

“The fact that the jury heard from four members of officer Briggs’s family, those things happen in trials,” she said. “They’re not appealing to improper passion. There is always some emotion in trials, and certainly this case would be no exception.”

11 Down, 11 to Go

The justices heard arguments on 11 issues yesterday, and another 11 will be briefed by both sides but not argued in person.

The defense has asked the court to consider:

∎  Whether the state’s capital punishment statute is flawed in not requiring the jury to be certain of its sentence beyond a reasonable doubt.

∎  Whether a judge should have granted their request to dismiss two jurors they saw as unfit. The defense used its limited vetoes to take the potential jurors out of the pool.

∎  Whether jurors should have been told prisoners have access to perks like television and pool tables. Rothstein said those conditions can change and the testimony made life in prison seem mild. The state said the information showed Addison would be around inmates he could potentially harm, and added that the testimony was valid in light of Addison’s apparent lack of remorse.

Rothstein also brought up an email exchange between Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was the state’s attorney general when Briggs was shot, and a political consultant in which she writes of her intent to seek the death penalty. Rothstein said the email, which created controversy when it surfaced during Ayotte’s 2010 run for the U.S. Senate, contradicts the motives Ayotte gave in a letter when denying Addison’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without parole.

Addison was not in court yesterday, which is typical for Supreme Court hearings. Members of Briggs’s family including his parents and wife were present but did not speak with the media.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court took a year to issue an order on the case. If Addison’s lawyers are unsuccessful they have several other options including appeals to both the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. District Court in Concord.