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NH House votes to strengthen rape shield law

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

May 04. 2017 2:57PM
Bob Marriott holds a large photo of his daughter Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott during the 2014 sentencing hearing for Seth Mazzaglia, who was convicted of Lizzi's murder. (AP/FILE)

CONCORD — The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass a bill designed to better protect the privacy of victims of sexual assault, legislation that stemmed from the Lizzi Marriott murder case.

The bill was introduced after convicted murderer Seth Mazzaglia appealed his conviction to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, alleging the lower court did not correctly apply the state's rape shield law.

The high court ultimately called on the Legislature to clarify and update the law.

"It's a great relief," Bob Marriott, Lizzi Marriott's dad, said after the vote. "We're very pleased with the result. We think it will help future victims and protect their privacy."

Mazzaglia was convicted of killing Marriott at a Dover apartment in 2012 and discarding her body in the Piscataqua River at Portsmouth Harbor. Her body has not been found.

The House voted 328-30 to pass Senate Bill 9, clarifying admissibility of proffered evidence in sexual assault cases.

Such evidence would remain under seal and be exempt from public disclosure. The bill's language includes past "sexual activity," from conduct or behavior to sexual predisposition or expression.

The bill had a long list of supporters, including Gov. Chris Sununu, the Attorney General's Office, the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which has 13 crisis centers around the state.

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, argued for the bill, saying it protects victims from further victimization. He said it also sends a strong message statewide. "No other victim of sexual assault has to worry about whether or not they can come forward," he said.

House Majority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, called the bill a critical clarification for the rape shield law, which was first enacted in 1975.

"This is an important piece of legislation that protects the privacy of sexual assault victims, their families, and strengthens New Hampshire's rape shield law," he said. "This will ensure that a victim's sexual history will remain sealed from the jury, public, and press while not infringing upon a defendant's rights or jeopardizing due process."

Sununu said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

"It prevents another family from having to go through the painful and lengthy legal battle the Marriott family had to undertake to protect their daughter's privacy," he said in a statement.

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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