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Published: 12/18/2008

Policeman's killer gets 1st New Hampshire death sentence in 49 years

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANCHESTER, N.H. A jury issued New Hampshire s first death sentence in a half century Thursday to a man who fatally shot a Manchester police officer to avoid arrest two years ago.

Lawyers for Michael Addison had sought a life sentence, arguing that he acted recklessly, not intentionally, and suffered from an abusive childhood and possible brain damage from his mother s heavy drinking while she was pregnant.

Prosecutors emphasized Addison s record of violence, including a crime rampage a week before Officer Michael Briggs was shot in the head, and noted that Addison had said he would pop a cop if necessary.

Addison, 28, had no reaction as the Hillsborough County Superior Court jury announced its verdict after about 13 hours of deliberation over four days.

The state Supreme Court will automatically review the conviction and sentence, and the defense said it will appeal.

The judge must formally impose the sentence, scheduled for Monday.

New Hampshire hasn t executed anyone since 1939. The last time a New Hampshire court imposed the death penalty was in 1959, but the lives of the two convicted men were spared when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down capital punishment for a time in the 1970s.

Officer Briggs wife, two young sons, and parents attended Addison s sentencing. His father, Leland Briggs, said he hopes the verdict will help protect other police officers.

This is what we wanted. This is what we got. I love my son and I m glad, said Mr. Briggs, a former police officer himself.

In June, Judge Kathleen McGuire rejected claims that racial prejudice would prevent Addison, who is black, from getting a fair trial in predominantly white New Hampshire. She said there was no evidence that race influenced the state to seek the death penalty.

Jurors had been screened for bias and had to certify Thursday that race had not influenced their decision.

They unanimously agreed that Addison deserves to die by injection for shooting a police officer to avoid arrest.

If I didn t feel completely convinced in my heart it was the right thing, I wouldn t have voted that way, juror Evelyn Reed told WMUR-TV. So I have peace about it.

When Officer Briggs, 35, and his bicycle partner came across Addison and friend Antoine Bell-Rogers in an alley early on Oct. 16, 2006, they recognized the men as suspects in a recent shooting and two armed robberies and ordered them to stop. Addison turned and shot Officer Briggs in the head at close range, testimony showed.

The defense admitted on the first day of the trial that Addison killed the officer, but defense attorney David Rothstein said the act was fast, totally unplanned, and reckless.

Prosecutors called the shooting cold-blooded and premeditated.

That fatal shot was no accident. It was no reckless misjudgment or panic-driven mistake, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said in her opening statement.

The defense pointed to Addison s absentee parents and rocky childhood as grounds for mercy.

Testimony showed that Addison s late mother, Cheryl Kiser, drank heavily, used drugs, and was known for violent outbursts, while his father, Michael Wilson, smoked crack throughout Addison s childhood and was rarely there for his son.

But Ms. Ayotte said sentencing Addison to life would have amounted to a free pass for Officer Briggs murder because Addison faced decades in prison for other convictions.

There are millions [and] millions of people in this country who unfortunately come from far, far worse backgrounds than the defendant and they don t go out and harm and murder people, she argued.

Addison s attorneys have said he couldn t get a fair trial in a city that revered Officer Briggs and was outraged by his murder. The defense also cited cases of premeditated multiple murders that did not result in death sentences.

In October, a jury in Brentwood handed down the state s first capital murder conviction since 1959 in the murder-for-hire case of millionaire John Brooks, who is appealing. The jury gave Mr. Brooks, who is white, life without parole, the only alternative to the death penalty in the capital murder statute.

New Hampshire law limits the death penalty to a handful of situations including murder for hire and murder of a police officer.

I think a just verdict has been rendered, said Gov. John Lynch. He said murdering a police officer really strikes at the heart and fabric of our society and that the death penalty is appropriate for such a heinous crime.

The governor warned legislators Thursday that he will veto any attempt to repeal or scale back New Hampshire s capital murder statute. Efforts to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire have repeatedly failed in recent years, and opponents of capital punishment are considering another attempt in 2009.



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