The state’s highest court has ruled that the 2006 killing of a Manchester police officer by Michael Addison is punishable by death.
Back in 2008 Jeff Strelzin of the Attorney General’s office asked jurors to consider imposing the death penalty. “For this crime committed by this defendant and all the victims in the Briggs family, every one of them, it would be the most fair and just thing to do.”
The five N.H. Supreme Court justices have spent the last several months trying to determine whether the death penalty really was a fair and just sentence. On Thursday they unanimously ruled that the sentence is neither quote “excessive nor disproportionate” compared to similar cases nationwide.
To make that ruling the court looked at ten cases from New Jersey, Arizona, Texas and Indiana. But that number is far less than the defense asked the court to consider, which during oral arguments back in January was around 350 cases.
In the end, the court concluded that when it comes to an officer killed in the line of duty – the death sentence was imposed nine out of 10 times. In their opinion the justices wrote: “Our review of the cases does not support a finding that the death penalty is only rarely imposed for the murder of a law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty.”
UNH law professor Buzz Scherr says he is not surprised by this decision. “Given the small universe of cases that the court decided to look at, it is almost inevitable that there is going to be a finding of proportionality. If they had used a broader number of cases, it would have been more likely that this would be disproportionate.”
Scherr says the court looked at factors such as "a police shooting, he was tried for that, he was convicted of that, there was a sentencing hearing, and there was aggravating factors found.” Addison’s race, African American, and Michael Briggs, a white police officer, was not a factor in the ruling, Scherr said.
Currently Addison is the only inmate on death row in the state. The last execution happened more than 75 years ago.
Strelzin applauds the verdict but says "this is not something to be celebrated; it is something to be respected."
"This has been a very long process for everyone involved, more than anybody for the Briggs family. They lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and the Manchester PD lost a beloved and respected colleague and for them this is never over and this has been an extremely long process,” he said.
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, who prosecuted the case as the state’s Attorney General, also stood by the court’s decision – calling it quote “appropriate and just for a violent career criminal.”
That’s something then-Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker argued for in court when describing what Addison told numerous witnesses. “I am not going back to jail, if the cops roll up on us, I’ll pop shots. I’ll pop a cop. If it comes down to it, it is them or me.”
Addison shot Officer Briggs in 2006 in an alley in Manchester after running from police. If caught he would have faced decades of jail time.
Assistant Chief of the Manchester Police Department Nick Willard, who investigated the case, said the loss of Briggs will never go away. “He was an amazing man of uncommon valor, and we were privileged to have him as a Manchester police officer.”
But Willard says he knows the case is far from reaching its conclusion. “Everybody is under that reality that more is to come, that there will be more appeals and the process is going to continue. I don’t think anyone sees any finality in the decision today. But it is another hurdle I guess that was overcome, but with the understanding that more hurdles will be before us.”
The defense still has many more options left including appealing to the federal district court or the U.S. Supreme Court. However whether Addison’s lawyers will pursue such options is unknown. Both declined to comment.
But Scherr says if all possible appeals fail, it’s still five to 10 years before there would be an actual execution.