2008: NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte
State Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has been named New Hampshire Citizen of the Year for 2008 by the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.
Ayotte was cited for her oversight and prosecution of two capital murder cases this year, one of which brought a death sentence this month for the convicted killer of Manchester Police Offi cer Michael Briggs.
"The murder of Officer Briggs stunned and shocked Manchester and the state,'' said Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid. "Attorney General Ayotte has attempted to deflect the praise, but it is clear that she led the successful effort to bring the killer to justice.
"The further decision, both in the Addison case and the murder-for-hire Brooks trial, to seek the death penalty was a huge one that has and will continue to have an effect on New Hampshire,'' McQuaid said.
This is the fifth year that a Citizen of the Year has been selected. The award recognizes an individual or group who, in the newspaper's judgment, has had the biggest influence on New Hampshire in a given year.
It was the murder of Officer Briggs in 2006 by Michael Addison that led to New Hampshire police being named, collectively, Citizen of the Year that year.
Other honorees have included New Hampshire men and women serving in the Armed Forces, 2004; Gov. John Lynch for his oversight of recovery efforts from damaging floods in 2005; and Secretary of State William Gardner last year for his defense of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Ayotte, 40, lives in Nashua with her husband and two children.
Except for six months as Gov. Craig Benson's legal counsel, she has been with the Attorney General's Office since 1998.
Capital murder cases
The trials of millionaire businessman John Brooks, for orchestrating and participating in the 2005 murder of a Derry handyman, and of Addison for the fatal shooting of Briggs in a Manchester alley, were the first two in which prosecutors pursued death sentences throughout all phases of a jury trial since the state capital murder law was rewritten in 1974.
In the Brooks case, Ayotte oversaw a prosecution in which the jury convicted the defendant of capital murder, but spared his
life with a sentence of life without parole. In Addison's case, Ayotte was personally involved in preparation of the case, and
presented opening and closing arguments to the jury.
Citing Addison's decade of violence that led to what Ayotte called the "cold-hearted, coldblooded murder of Michael Briggs," she asked jurors, "If you let criminals like the defendant kill the police without the most serious consequences ... who will be safe and who will protect us?"
The years of news reporting yet to come on Addison's legal appeals assures that would-be cop-killers will be reminded on a regular basis of the penalty for pulling the trigger on a police officer.
Death-penalty opponents say the reality that a death sentence has actually been imposed will give their movement strength.
They plan a noontime vigil Jan. 9 at the State House.
Ayotte, in a telephone interview last week, said police, "are our public guardians. They are there in our worst moments, and they do need the greatest protection under our law.
"Criminals have to know the harshest penalties will be sought when they harm a law enforcement officer in the line of duty."
Ayotte credited her legal team in the Addison case, including senior assistant attorneys general Jeffrey Strelzin and Will Delker, and countless hours of preparation for the trial.
"I cannot say enough about how dedicated they are," she said of Strelzin and Delker. "They're very talented lawyers who could go and make a lot more money, but they choose to serve the public."
Highly respected official
Ayotte's first big murder prosecution was against two Vermont teenagers in the killing of Half and Suzanne Zantop, of Hanover. Both teens pleaded guilty, with Robert Tulloch agreeing to a life-without-parole sentence and James Parker agreeing to a minimum 25-years in prison.
Ayotte's handling of the plea, in which the killers were barred from profiting off their stories, won her a commendation from FBI director Robert Mueller.
She has been attorney general since 2004, when she took over for Peter Heed, who resigned under fire. Gov. Lynch nominated her to a full four-year term in September 2005. Her term runs through March.
Ayotte had been considered a friend to law enforcement even before she won the post. Police pressed Lynch to appoint her while she served on a temporary basis.
Lincoln Police Chief Ted Smith, president of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police who previously served for 16 years with the Washington D.C., police, describes her as the "best attorney general I've ever seen."
"We have found her to be one of the most open and receptive attorneys general we have ever had," Smith said of Ayotte. "She's someone we can turn to with a problem and actually receive an answer, which is extremely important."
Smith and others in law enforcement back Ayotte's decision to seek death against Addison.
"It provides our police with at least some comfort that if they were to pay ultimate price, society would take a toll for it," he said.
Lynch said Ayotte "is committed and dedicated to public safety, and she has developed an extraordinary positive relationship with law enforcement, which I think is really making a difference in terms of keeping New Hampshire a safe place to live and work."
He said police realize the role Ayotte plays in helping them do their job, "and that's why they appreciate her so much."
The governor said Ayotte has been a partner in his work to reform laws on sexual offenders and child predators, and to foster online safety programs and legislation .
Her name is also on a U.S. Supreme Court case, Ayotte vs. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which was a defense of the state's parental notification law on abortions for minors.
A federal appeals court had ruled the law unconstitutional because it lacked clear direction in health emergencies. Ayotte refused to discuss her views on abortion at the time, saying her job was to defend and uphold laws the state adopts. The court sent the case back to the appeals level for a second review of the Legislature's intent in passing the law. Before that could happen, the Legislature repealed the law.