By Lynne Tuohy
CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire's top court upheld the sentence of the state's only death row inmate, clearing the way for a convicted cop killer to become the first person executed in New Hampshire since 1939.
Michael Addison, 33, was convicted of gunning down Michael Briggs as the 35-year-old Manchester police officer was attempting to arrest him on a string of armed robbery charges.
The high court's unanimous ruling came nearly a year after it heard unprecedented daylong arguments the first death penalty appeal to come before it in 50 years.
Addison's lawyers argued that holding the trial in a courthouse a stone's throw from the Manchester police department injected passion and prejudice into the jury's verdict.
"The watershed event in this case was not moving the trial out of that courthouse," attorney David Rothstein argued.
Prosecutors countered that both sides worked hard to guarantee Addison a fair trial and that jurors certified their verdict was not influenced by arbitrary factors.
In its ruling, the court said: "We conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor."
Briggs was 15 minutes from the end of his shift on Oct. 16, 2006, when he and his partner — both on bicycle patrol — confronted Addison in a dark alley. Jurors found that Addison shot Briggs in the head at close range to avoid arrest.
Addison was later convicted of going on a violent rampage in the days before Briggs' death, including two armed robberies and a drive-by shooting.
Because it was the first death penalty appeal in decades, the justices had to first determine the pool of cases to compare with Addison's to determine whether his sentence was influenced by race or other factors. Addison is black; Briggs was white.
Addison's lawyers argued his sentence should be compared to all other death penalty cases in this state and others. The justices opted to compare it to 49 cases nationwide in which an officer was killed in the line of duty.
The only other New Hampshire capital case in recent history to reach the penalty phase was that of John Brooks — a wealthy white man convicted of plotting and paying for the killing of a handyman he suspected of stealing from him. A jury spared him a death sentence in 2008 — the same year Addison was sentenced to die.
The last person executed in New Hampshire was Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death. He was hanged — still a viable form of execution in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not possible.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press