Mazzaglia's Murder Appeal To Be Heard (With Boundaries) In N.H.'s Highest Court

Nov 16, 2016

The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments in a case involving the 2012 rape and murder of UNH student Lizzi Marriott.

The man convicted of that murder, Seth Mazzaglia, was sentenced to life without parole in 2014, but today is the 34-year-old’s first chance to appeal that conviction.

NHPR’s Paige Sutherland, who's been following the appeal, joins Morning Edition's Rick Ganley to break down the specifics.

So today’s hearing will be more restricted then most appeals – can you explain why for us?

So today’s arguments will be open to the public but with some boundaries.

The reason for that comes down to the state’s Rape Shield Law. This law prevents defendants from using a rape victim’s sexual past as part of their defense in court. In September the state Supreme Court ruled that this protection still applies during the appeal.

But that makes things difficult for the defense, as the crux of their argument is that Mazzaglia was not given a fair trial because this specific evidence, the victim’s sexual past, was prohibited from trial.

So what we will see today will be a kind of dance between the two legal parties as they will be arguing on a topic they can’t legally go into detail about.

Bob Marriott holds a picture of his daughter Lizzi Marriott during Mazzaglia's sentencing hearing in August 2014.
Credit AP/FILE

That will definitely make things tricky. Despite these restrictions what should we expect the main talking points to be today?

Well, the defense’s case is that Lizzi Marriott accidently suffocated during consensual sex between her, the defendant and his girlfriend at the time. And this was the scenario Mazzaglia’s girlfriend, Kat McDonough, described in a [recorded] statement. But later at trial, she had a different story in which Mazzaglia straggled Marriott after she refused to have sex with him. McDonough struck a plea deal with the state and was released earlier this year.

So I think we can expect the defense to mention McDonough’s story change as well as trying to allude as much as they can, given the restrictions, that the victim had agreed to, and was accustomed to, the kind of sexual arrangement McDonough first stated the three were engaged in the night Marriott died.

The state, however, will stress not only that claims about Marriott’s sexual behavior and history aren’t substantiated, but that it’s irrelevant as it says nothing about whether Marriott consented to having sex with Mazzaglia.

So when should we expect a decision on this and what are the possible outcomes?

Today’s arguments will be quick – as usual each side will be given 15 minutes but that includes questioning from the justices. And then after that – the justices will probably take a few months to rule on this case.

The N.H. Supreme Court ruled in September that information involving the victim's sexual past will remain sealed during the appeal.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Given the restrictions we talked about – only if the defense wins will the justices’ opinion be fully public, otherwise their reasoning will be restricted to only the information that was said in open court.

But if Mazzaglia does win his appeal he will be granted a new trial, which probably wouldn’t start for several months as both sides would need time to prepare.

If Mazzaglia does win his appeal, is there any possibility that he’d be granted parole while he awaited a new trial?

No because the defense is only appealing his murder conviction so Mazzaglia still has time to serve for his several conspiracy convictions for tampering with witnesses as well as evidence. He was given 7 to 14 years for that so he still has up to ten years left for those charges, which he’s been serving up in the State Prison in Berlin.