N.H. cop killer's trial begins

If found guilty of killing officer, the defendant could face death

Related article:
Jury selection begins for N.H. cop killer

By Margot Sanger-Katz
Concord Monitor

CONCORD, N.H. — The capital murder trial of Michael Addison will begin today with opening arguments and a tour of sites in Manchester relevant to the case. It's the first stage in a three-part death penalty trial that lawyers expect to span nearly two months.

Addison, 28, is accused in the October 2006 shooting death of Michael Briggs, a 35-year-old Manchester bicycle patrolman who lived in Concord with his wife and two sons.

Prosecutors will argue that Addison shot Briggs in a Manchester alley to avoid arrest for a series of crimes he committed in the days leading up to the shooting. Since his arrest, Addison has been convicted of crimes related to two armed robberies and a shooting outside an apartment complex. The judge in the case, Kathleen McGuire, ruled last week that jurors will be able to hear about those crimes and about statements Addison made that he would "pop a cop" if a police officer tried to arrest him.

Defense attorneys have been less specific about their strategy. They have indicated that they will not argue that Briggs's shooting was an accident. But they have said in filings and hearings that the fact Addison was wanted for other serious crimes does not mean he meant to kill Briggs.

Addison's trial comes fast on the heels of the trial of John "Jay" Brooks, a businessman accused of hiring men to help him kidnap and kill Jack Reid, a man who Brooks believed had stolen from him. Brooks was convicted Thursday of capital murder, and the jury that found him guilty must now decide whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed.

The Brooks and Addison cases are the first capital murder cases to go to trial in decades. New Hampshire has not executed anyone since the 1930s.

But the trial of Addison, who was charged with capital murder before Brooks, has drawn more public attention. Court officials have said that they are preparing for dozens of spectators and have arranged seating charts and policies about who will be able to enter the courtroom first. The trial will also be broadcast live daily on the website of WMUR-TV.

Several people witnessed Briggs's shooting, and witnesses are likely to include several Manchester police officers on the scene, including Officer John Breckenridge, Briggs's partner. Antoine Bell- Rogers, a friend of Addison's who was his accomplice in the armed robberies and apartment shooting and was with him at the time of the Briggs shooting, is also on the witness list.

According to court documents, Briggs saw the two men in the alley and called out "stop, police." Bell-Rogers stopped, but Addison continued running away from Briggs, prosecutors allege. According to prosecution accounts, Briggs followed Addison on foot and Addison turned and shot him at close range. Autopsy results found that Briggs died from a single gunshot wound in the head.

Because of the prosecution's strategy, it is also likely that several of Addison's friends will testify about his actions around the time of the shooting and his statements that he would kill a police officer. According to court documents, Addison knew he and Bell-Rogers were wanted at the time of the shooting, because a friend had told him.

Witnesses will also likely testify about Addison's alleged flight from the crime scene. Investigators found the gun used in the crime and a sweatshirt described as Addison's in New Hampshire. Addison was found a few hours after the shooting at the Dorchester, Boston home of his grandmother.

Jury selection in the case began four weeks ago. Unlike more typical criminal cases where jurors fill out standard questionnaires and answer basic questions about their biases, the jury selection process for Addison's case has been painstaking and lengthy. Jurors have come to court in groups of 100 to fill out lengthy surveys on their political views, attitudes toward race and even their favorite television programs. Then they have sat for individual interviews with lawyers and the judge.

Lawyers used the process to identify jurors who would be fair and sympathetic to their case. Death penalty jurors also need to pass a special test, known as death qualification. Jurors with philosophical objections to the death penalty are screened out because if Addison is found guilty, the same jury that decides his guilt will also decide whether he should receive the death penalty.

In April, Addison's lawyer asked to have the trial moved form Manchester, citing concerns about the intense public coverage of the case and the predominately white jury pool. Addison is black and Briggs was white. McGuire denied that motion and her ruling was upheld by Supreme Court. Last week, Addison's lawyers renewed their request to have the trial moved saying the jury selection process only confirmed their concerns of potential biases of a Manchester jury.

"The community that came in to hear this case is the community that has read the Union Leader and watched WMUR over the last two years, has formed strong opinions about this case, and anticipates verdicts of guilty, eligibility (for the death penalty) and death," the defense said in a motion filed Thursday. "This is also the community to which the selected jurors must return and answer."

Prosecutors have not responded to the motion but said they will. Addison's lawyers say they do not expect the judge to change her mind.

McGuire has ruled that the case will be divided into three phases. The first stage will proceed like a normal murder trial and jurors will have to decide whether Addison "knowingly" killed Briggs while he was in the line of duty.

If Addison is found guilty, the trial will move to a second stage, where jurors will decide whether Addison is eligible for the death penalty under the law. If he is found ineligible, he will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If he is found eligible, the trial will go to the final, sentencing stage.

The sentencing trial will operate under looser standards of evidence than normal trials. Members of Briggs's family will be allowed to testify about the impact of the crime on their lives. Prosecutors will be allowed to show jurors the entirety of Addison's criminal history, which reaches back into his teen years.

But Addison's lawyers will also be able to share details from Addison's past that might explain why he does not deserve the death penalty. Several members of his family have been listed as potential witnesses.

Copyright 2008 Concord Monitor

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