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New Hampshire high court hears undertakes fairness review of cop killer's death penalty

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — Lawyers for New Hampshire's only death row inmate on Thursday told the state's highest court it must consider the punishments meted out in hundreds of similar crimes to decide if the condemned man's sentence was fair.

Michael Addison was sentenced to die for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. Thursday's hearing was his last direct appeal.

In state Supreme Court arguments, defense lawyer David Rothstein said the court should review 366 police killings nationwide to decide if Addison's sentence was fair. Rothstein said 58 percent of those cases ended in death sentences; 42 percent got sentences of life in prison.

"If you only look at just 10 cases, how do you really know if what you're seeing is a true reflection of what juries have said," Rothstein said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin countered that the cases to be compared should come from states with similar capital punishment statutes. He said only 12 cases — the 10 Rothstein referenced plus two that were discovered later — fit the Addison case. In the state's analysis, 67 percent of those cases ended in death sentences; 33 percent got life sentences.

New Hampshire's capital murder statute — that a defendant "knowingly" killed someone — is different from any other in the nation. Some have a lower standard of killing that would warrant a death penalty, while others have a higher standard of "purposefully" killing.

The two sides sparred over the difference between "knowingly" and "purposefully" with Rothstein saying all "purposeful" cases must be considered when weighing Addison's sentence. He argued that Addison did not intend to kill Briggs. Strelzin said the judges, when ordering the review, instructed both sides to only submit cases where it was a "knowing" killing.

The defense team also chose not to consider factors such as the youth of the killer, drug abuse, past criminal record or history of violence when selecting cases to compare to Addison's. Rothstein said these so-called "mitigating" factors, which he said were key in the Addison sentence, don't show up in court records of other cases so to include them would drop the universe of comparative cases where the defendant got life in prison from about 150 to fewer than 10.

Strelzin argued those factors must be considered in sentencing.

"You specifically said over and over again that mitigators are part of the equation and that makes sense," Strelzin told the justices.

Briggs' family watched from the gallery. They declined to comment upon leaving court.

The last execution in New Hampshire took place in 1939, when Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death, was hanged.

Addison was wanted for a string of violent crimes, including armed robberies and a drive-by shooting on Oct. 16, 2006 when Briggs and his partner — both on bicycle patrol — confronted him in a dark alley. Jurors found that Addison shot Briggs in the head to avoid arrest.

Rothstein said the killing of Briggs lacked the brutality found in many other cases and that Addison was not deemed a danger to others if a life sentence was imposed.

Justice Gary Hicks pointed out that Briggs had asked Addison to stop more than once then, as Briggs approached him, Addison held his hand up, "it could be argued, ensnaring Officer Briggs in a trap, then put a bullet through his bike helmet. Why isn't that heinous?"

A ruling is expected in six to eight months.

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PHOTO: FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 17, 2006, file photo, Michael Addison arrives for his probable cause hearing in Manchester District Court in Manchester, N.H.  Addison was convicted in the shooting death of Officer Michael Briggs. The New Hampshire Supreme Court will hold a hearing Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, to review the fairness of the death sentence of the state's only death row inmate in comparison to other cases involving the fatal shootings of police officers. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 17, 2006, file photo, Michael Addison arrives for his probable cause hearing in Manchester District Court in Manchester, N.H. Addison was convicted in the shooting death of Officer Michael Briggs. The New Hampshire Supreme Court will hold a hearing Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, to review the fairness of the death sentence of the state's only death row inmate in comparison to other cases involving the fatal shootings of police officers. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

 

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