Mike Pride: Would we execute Addison after repealing the death penalty?
**FILE** In a Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008 file photo, defendant Michael Addison looks back at the gallery during his capital murder trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester, N.H. A judge formally imposed New Hampshire's first death sentence in half a century on Addison, who fatally shot a Manchester police officer two years ago.As he did last week when a jury ordered him executed, Michael Addison showed no emotion Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/Bob LaPree, Pool, File)
Imagine it is March 14, 2039. New Hampshire abolished the death penalty 25 years ago. It has executed no one for a century. Nevertheless, today 58-year-old Michael Addison, a convicted cop killer whose appeals have finally run out, will be executed by lethal injection.
Could this happen? Yes.
Death penalty opponents have chosen a political strategy in their current campaign for repeal that allows for such an outcome. Gov. Maggie Hassan, whose openness to repeal has given opponents hope this year, acknowledged as much during a recent editorial board interview at the Monitor.
The House passed the repeal bill this week and sent it on its way to the Senate. It would not be retroactive. Any death sentence already in place would be carried out unless the governor and Executive Council commuted the sentence to life without parole or a court vacated it on appeal.
Hassan told the Monitor she opposed the death penalty on grounds of faith and conscience and was likely to sign the repeal if it passed. She said she would sign Addison’s death warrant if it reached her desk. This week, on the day the House voted on repeal, she said she would veto the bill if it was amended to apply to the Addison case. The House rejected an amendment to that effect.
New Hampshire does not have a death row. It has Addison, who killed Michael Briggs, a police officer in the line of duty, in 2006.
Arguments at trial about Addison’s troubled upbringing won him no mercy. He was sentenced in December 2008 to death by lethal injection.
Addison’s appeals have begun. The state Supreme Court must next decide whether his sentence was “excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.”
The reason repeal of the death penalty has a chance in the Republican Senate is that it is a moral issue, not a party-line issue. Kathleen Ronayne, the Monitor’s State House reporter, tried to count noses but could not predict the outcome in the Senate because too many senators declined to say how they would vote.
In pressing for repeal in the Legislature, opponents of the death penalty have good reason for setting the Addison case aside. No one wants senators who might be struggling with a tough moral decision to see the vote as potentially sparing the life of an actual cop-killer.
The strategy has worked in other states. New Mexico repealed its death penalty five years ago, but the decision did not apply to two men already on death row. Connecticut, with 11 men on death row, followed suit in 2012. Last year, Maryland joined them, with five men on death row. To date, none of the 18 condemned men in these states has been executed.
Addison’s appeals will go on for years. Generally the process lasts more than a decade, but often it takes much longer. An Arizona man died in 2010 of Alzheimer’s and other ailments 27 years after being sentenced to death. Last year, a Florida death row inmate died of natural causes after 39 years on death row.
If New Hampshire indeed repeals the death penalty and Addison runs out of appeals many years hence, the state will find itself in a bizarre situation.
Its history with the death penalty is so ancient that it has no protocol for lethal injection. In the 300 years between 1739 and 1939, New Hampshire killed just 24 people. In 1739, homosexuality and abortion were capital crimes, and punishment for adultery was harsh. Two days after Christmas that year, the province executed two women in Portsmouth for concealing the death of bastard infants. The last person hanged at the state prison was Howard Long, a rapist and murderer.
As the names O.J. Simpson and Trayvon Martin remind us, race is always an issue in homicide cases in our country. Although New Hampshire is growing more diverse, Addison is an African-American in a state that remains 94 percent white.
One reason the death penalty is losing ground nationally is credible evidence that juries and judges are more likely to send inmates of minority races to the gallows than white citizens. Justice in New Hampshire may be color-blind, but putting a black inmate to death years after repealing the death penalty will not be easy to explain to outsiders.
In Maryland in particular, opponents of capital punishment expressed optimism that the convicts left on death row when the death penalty was repealed would never be executed.
Who knows what will happen if New Hampshire repeals the death penalty? Maybe only the moral scruples and political ingenuity of whoever happens to be governor 25 years from now will stand between the state and the national spectacle of Addison’s execution.
Addison’s appeals will almost certainly last beyond Hassan’s time in the corner office. Thus her pledge to sign his death warrant if it comes to her desk might represent a personal commitment, but its main purpose is to remove his case from the current debate.
This sound political strategy of 2014 could indeed come back to haunt the state in 2039.