Manchester Asst. Police Chief Nick Willard talks about the Supreme Court’s decision and the long, legal road ahead.
MANCHESTER, NH – In a unanimous decision rendered April 30 the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Michael Addison, who was convicted by jury of capital murder in the 2006 shooting death of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs.
Although Addison’s conviction has already been upheld by the state’s high court, Thursday’s decision was based on the question of wether the original death penalty sentencing was “disproportionate” to penalties imposed in similar cases.
Addison remains New Hampshire’s only death row prisoner.
The decision issued by the Supreme Court justices read in part:
“We subsequently affirmed the defendant’s conviction for capital murder, concluding that his sentence was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the 2 evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances.
However, our function is to identify an aberrant death sentence, not to search for proof that a defendant’s sentence is perfectly symmetrical with the penalty imposed in all other similar cases.
We hold that the death sentence imposed upon the defendant in this case is not ‘excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.’ Accordingly, the defendant’s sentence of death is affirmed.
In reaching its decision, the court cited 10 death penalty cases, noted in the appendix of the decision (see below).
Following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, Manchester Police Asst. Chief Nick Willard said the decision was the right one.
“This was a significant win,” said Willard, who served as supervisor of the department’s detective division at the time of Briggs’ murder.
“We’re very satisfied with the Supreme Court’s decision, and we also recognize and understand there’s still more to come, so we’ll continue to be patient and respectful of the process,” he said.
Willard said most of all, the decision is an affirmation for those who served on the jury and deliberated the facts and evidence, arriving at the original death sentence.
“When it comes to how this decision leaves us feeling – fellow officers, family and friends – for me, the most important entity are the jurors. Think of what it does to those jurors, to have the Supreme Court consider whether what they did was ‘disproportionate’ to the crime. Today’s Supreme Court decision validates the work of those jurors, and I’m immensely proud of them. It shows they reached the right conclusion, having heard all facts,” Willard said.
“As human beings, and as Michael Addison’s peers, for everyday citizens to render a sentence that is going to take another person’s life is an enormous decision. This validates those jurors,” Willard said.
Due to the legal processes involved in such cases, it could be another 10 years before Addison exhausts his ability to appeal the decision, one of the consequences of the death penalty – and one which can be particularly painful, especially to a victim’s family.
Most recently we heard from the family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richards, 8, who was killed in the 2013 blast. Martin’s family, in an open letter published in the Boston Globe, asked that the death penalty be “taken off the table” to preclude a protracted and painful process, and to “end the anguish” of their loss.
“We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal,” wrote Martin’s parents, Bill and Denise Richards.
Willard says he fully appreciates and understands the Martins’ position, but maintains that in the case of Officer Michael Briggs, justice for the family will be served only once the death sentence is justly carried out.
“It’s a rational belief for the family of the Boston Marathon victim, and they need only look to the state of New Hampshire to see for themselves that Michael Briggs was executed by Michael Addison in 2006 and, here we are in 2015, and we’re talking about another decision rendered in the case,” said Willard. “So yes, it’s real and rational, and I believe it will continue to go on, year after year and appeal after appeal. But it’s the right course.”
Willard further noted that he has no patience for those who say it’s “time to get it over with” or “enough is enough” and that Addison should be executed immediately.
“I don’t tolerate that thinking and anyone who says it in my presence knows that. He’s deserving of justice. That’s the cornerstone of our system, that Michael Addison gets the best legal representation and opportunities to challenge everything at every turn,” Willard said.
“Does law enforcement, the state, the family – do we have the patience to see that justice is carried out? I know the Briggs family is understanding of the process. They want justice for Mike,” Willard said. “I can tell you that Michael Briggs’ mother is at every hearing and each time she shows up and each time she speaks to prosecutors and police, she shows her love for her son Michael, and her commitment to see that justice for him is finally realized.”
Although it’s been more than eight years since Briggs’ murder, on Oct. 17, 2006, the sense of loss over his death among his fellow officers is ever present.
“It never leaves our consciousness. Michael Briggs is everywhere,” Willard said, referring to the obvious public tributes, like the naming of the PAL center on Lake Avenue after Briggs, and the dedication of the new Valley Street headquarters in his name.
But there are also the more private remembrances, like locker 335 in the police officers’ basement locker room.
“We took his locker and painted it blue and put his badge on it. It’s what every officer sees every day when he or she pulls a shift,” Willard said. “Times like this in particular are times of personal reflection, for each and every one of us, on the dangers of the job, and what it could do to our own families, should we meet a similar fate.”