- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The New Hampshire Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments for the first time on whether the death sentence given a man convicted of killing a police officer was fair compared to similar cases nationwide.

The hearing on Thursday marks the last phase of Michael Addison’s direct appeal of his death sentence for the 2006 killing of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.

The high court in November 2013 unanimously upheld Addison’s convictions and death sentence after its first review of a death sentence in more than half a century. The court ruled Addison’s sentence was not arbitrary or driven by passion or prejudice. Addison is black; Briggs was white.

But the fairness review is much broader in scope, comparing Addison’s crime and proposed punishment to other death penalty cases involving fatal police shootings and the sentences the killers got. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, likens it to the type of analysis the U.S. Supreme Court undertook in cases leading the justices to bar death sentences for juveniles, those with intellectual disabilities and rapists who do not kill their victims.

“This could well be a test and they could find there’s just not enough to find that this is the one and only case in 60 years that someone should be executed,” Dieter said of Addison’s case.

The last execution in New Hampshire took place in 1939, when Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death, was hanged. Hanging is still a viable form of execution in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not possible.

Thursday’s hour-long arguments are expected to be contentious. In court papers, the state says the review should focus on 10 cases chosen by prosecutors, while the defense cites 366 cases that offer a more comprehensive perspective. Neither Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin nor appellate public defender David Rothstein - who will argue before the court - would comment on their positions.

Rothstein, in his court filing, argues that the Addison jury found he did not act with premeditation or intent to kill - a factor he said is present in other death penalty cases. He also says the killing of Briggs lacked the brutality and repeated shots found in many other cases, and that Addison was not deemed a danger to others if a life sentence was imposed.

Addison was wanted by police for a string of violent crimes, including several armed robberies and a drive-by shooting. 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.

Strelzin will argue that criminals who kill police officers “demonstrate in the most extreme way possible that they have no respect for the rule of law or for human life.”

“It is no surprise that criminals like the defendant who murder law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty are more often sentenced to death,” he wrote.

After the court established the parameters of its review in a 2010 ruling, Addison’s lawyers objected to its scope, saying it ignores the only other New Hampshire capital case in recent history. That case involved a wealthy man, John Brooks, who plotted and paid for the killing of a handyman he thought had stolen from him. Brooks received life in prison without chance of parole in 2008, the same year Addison was sentenced to die.

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