Divide over death penalty
Former police chief advocates for life
In a highly awaited ruling, New Hampshire’s Supreme Court upheld the capital conviction of Michael Addison on Wednesday, but the justices said they needed more time to review the case before determining whether to the affirm his death sentence.
Addison was convicted in November 2008 of fatally shooting 35-year-old Officer Michael Briggs in Manchester on Oct. 16, 2006. Addison was sentenced to death in December 2008, bringing New Hampshire’s death penalty law into the spotlight. Since that time, former Peterborough police officer and current Jaffrey resident Ray Dodge has emerged as a somewhat unexpected opponent of capital punishment, and he has been among the most vocal critics of the state’s death penalty in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s ruling.
Wednesday’s 243-page ruling affirmed Addison’s conviction of capital murder, stating, “We conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances.”
The court withheld judgment on Addison’s death sentence, saying more review was needed and that “only after additional briefing and oral argument on comparative proportionality under RSA 630:5, XI(c) will we conclude our review of the defendant’s sentence of death, at which time we will issue a further opinion.” The vote for this ruling was 5-0.
In May 2009, Addison filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, claiming unfairness in holding a trial and selecting jurors from the Hillsborough-North judicial district. Press coverage and community outrage at the crime would have prejudiced jurors, according to Addison’s appeal.
After Wednesday’s ruling, however, Addison, now 33 years old, now waits for a final ruling on his death sentence. If the sentence stays, Addison will be the first person to be executed in New Hampshire since 1939, when Howard Long was put to death for molesting and beating a 10-year-old boy to death.
The death penalty has been questioned by New Hampshire legislators and residents since at least 2000, when a bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House and Senate. Then Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. The House passed another repeal bill in 2009, though it did not make it through the Senate.
On Oct. 24, State Representative Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) introduced a bill repealing the death penalty once again, and it is expected that this bill will be taken up in January. Dodge, who was also a former police chief for Marlborough, was with Cushing and several others when the bill was brought to the House floor.
Though the bill looks to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire, Dodge said that if passed it will only affect cases moving forward. “I’d be pleasantly surprised if they overturned [the death sentence],” Dodge said, referring to Addison’s case, in a phone interview Wednesday. “But the bill will not affect the Michael Addison case.”
Dodge, who was with the Marlborough police for eight years and with the Peterborough police for 12 before that, spoke about his views on criminal justice and the death penalty. The criminal justice system is good, he said, but not perfect. “All humans make mistakes. I was not perfect,” Dodge said.
To put the decision of taking someone’s life in human hands, even the state, is too much, said Dodge. The consequences of being wrong are far greater when death is on the line. “Once you’re executed, that’s it.” Dodge later added, “I have a moral objection to anyone killing anybody, period.”
Dodge became involved in the death penalty issue more upon his retirement from police work in 2006, mere months before Addison shot Officer Briggs. Dodge has gone to Friday vigils held once a month at the State House for years, and he also chairs the legislative committee of the local Monadnock Citizens Concerned about the Death Penalty. The Monadnock Citizens group is working in conjunction with the N.H. Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and both are contacting state legislators about the new repeal bill.
Though Dodge has not experienced much criticism for his position as a former police chief against the death penalty, he thinks he will see more as Addison’s case unfolds and the repeal bill is voted on. “I’m expecting some more criticism in the next few months,” he said.
Dodge regularly speaks at events about this topic, and will be speaking at the Keene State College Death Penalty symposium today from noon to 1:45 p.m. Dodge will be on a panel with four others, including Richard Guerriero, former public defender in death penalty cases that include Michael Addison’s.
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