CONCORD, New Hampshire — The New Hampshire attorney general's office may still handle the appeal of the state's only death row inmate even though a key member of his defense team has been hired by the office, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Michael Addison's lawyers argued that former public defender Lisa Wolford — who worked full time on Addison's appeal in 2009 — could undermine his case if she shares defense information and strategy with her colleagues at the attorney general's office.
The justices ruled unanimously that they were satisfied that Wolford has had no conversations with prosecutors handling Addison's appeal and has been blocked from computer access to files on the case. The ruling notes that a computer audit confirmed that she hadn't accessed any electronic files relating to the case since she joined the office in July 2012.
Addison's lawyers did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the ruling.
Addison was convicted of fatally shooting Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in October 2006 as Briggs attempted to arrest him for a string of violent felonies. The state Supreme Court in November upheld his death sentence in the first death penalty appeal to come before it in 50 years.
The court will next schedule arguments on a fairness review — weighing Addison's sentence against those handed down in 49 cases nationwide between 2000 and 2009 in which a police officer was shot in the line of duty. Addison's lawyers objected to the scope of that review, saying it ignores the only other New Hampshire capital case in recent history.
That case involved a wealthy businessman, John Brooks, who plotted and paid for the killing of a handyman he thought had stolen from him. Brooks was spared a death sentence in 2008, the same year Addison was condemned.
The court noted in its ruling Friday that a lawyer switching sides once a criminal case is on appeal lessens the chance of prejudice against the convict.
"As other jurisdictions have recognized, when a defense attorney first becomes involved in a case at the appellate level and subsequently joins the prosecutor's office, the danger of prejudice to a defendant is lessened because the prosecutors are bound by the facts in the appellate record," the ruling states.
Addison's lawyers argued unsuccessfully that the court should adopt a policy of automatically disqualifying a prosecutor's office from cases in which a defense attorney involved joins the office. The attorney general's office countered that most states have rejected such a blanket policy and that employing it in New Hampshire would "severely chill the hiring and movement of attorneys in this small state." The justices said they prefer a "more flexible, case-by-case approach."
"Disqualification of the entire Attorney General's office in this case is not warranted," according to the ruling.
The last execution in New Hampshire took place in 1939. Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death, was hanged. Hanging is still a viable form of execution in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not possible.