Addison decision not expected for at least a year
CONCORD - New Hampshire Supreme Court Justices had many and pointed questions Wednesday about the issues raised in the appeal of Michael Addison's first-degree murder conviction and death penalty sentence.
Family members of both slain Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs and Addison sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. Many Manchester police officers sat with the Briggs family, including Capt. Nick Willard, who headed the investigation into the 2006 shooting. Also present was Officer Daniel Doherty, who was shot earlier this year and seriously wounded. His accused shooter, Myles Webster, is scheduled for trial in December.
Outside the Supreme Court building, protesters carried banners opposing the death penalty. Among them was John Breckinridge, Briggs' partner on the night he was shot. Now retired, Breckinridge opposes the death penalty for religious reasons, said Arnie Alpert, a death penalty opponent.
"It was powerful," Alpert said about Breckinridge's presence.
22 separate issues
The Addison appeal cites 22 issues and the Supreme Court grouped them in four sections in the morning and afternoon sessions.
Among the issues: the court's refusal of a change of venue; wording of instructions given to the jury before deliberations; aggravating factors presented during sentencing; evidence of past crimes the state was allowed to present; and the refusal of then-Attorney General and current U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to accept a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. An assistant attorney general countered that the plea offer was rejected as hollow.
David Rothstein, the deputy appellate public defender, also challenged the refusal to allow a letter that the defense claims supports the idea that Ayotte was thinking about her political career when she made decisions such as what charge to bring and whether to accept a plea bargain. Ayotte personally prosecuted the case, which ended with a conviction in December 2008, then resigned seven months later, three months into a new four-year term as attorney general, to run for the U.S. Senate.
Rothstein returned again and again to the jury instructions. He said they were a "substantial deviation" from standard instructions, arguing the state said the jury could convict even if there was a possibility of innocence.
He said the introduction of video from one of the robberies Addison committed before the Briggs shooting and some 40 other exhibits were excessive.
Justice Gary Hicks asked: "Your point is this is piling on?"
Rothstein said the defense didn't contest that Addison committed the crimes. But when a jury hears detailed information about previous planned crimes, "they are getting the idea that the crimes are planned out," said Rothstein, while the defense claims the shooting wasn't planned.
Rothstein also argued that then-Hillsborough County Superior Court North Judge Kathleen McGuire's refusal to grant a change of venue put Addison at a disadvantage because not only was Briggs a police officer in the city, but the trial was conducted diagonally across the street from the Manchester Police Department and half the jury pool was from Manchester.
Justice Carol Conboy asked where else Rothstein would have wanted the trial held. "Anywhere that's not 100 yards from the police department," he responded.
Rothstein argued that the prosecution's presentation of the options available in prison to a lifer was prejudicial and jurors could have had an emotional response to hearing that Addison could play pool and watch football on television.
But Justice Robert Lynn said when the defense claimed during sentencing that "to die in prison is harsh," it was fair for the prosecution to say what is available to inmates.
Rothstein also disputed the trial judge's refusal to allow into evidence a police interview of Addison where he said it wasn't his purpose to kill a police officer. That decision handicapped the defense, Rothstein said. But Lynn said: "Nothing would have prevented your client from taking the stand and saying that." Of course, Lynn added, Addison would have been subject to cross-examination.
The justices now have thousands of pages of trial transcripts and written arguments to read. After the session ended, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said he doesn't expect a decision for a year or more because of the volume of material and other cases.
He said that if all Addison's appeals, both in New Hampshire and at the federal level, are rejected, an execution would probably not take place for at least 10 to 13 years.
New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.