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Ayotte: Death penalty repeal could effectively commute Addison’s sentence

Talking about repealing the death penalty as if it won’t affect Michael Addison’s death sentence is “absurd,” U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said on a Manchester radio program yesterday.

“It seems like in Concord they’re saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to leave the Addison case alone,’ and I think that’s absurd. And I think that these people who are voting on this need to understand that they could effectively be commuting Michael Addison’s sentence,” she said.

Her comments come as the Senate prepares to vote on a repeal bill, set for next Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 2-2, and Sen. Sam Cataldo of Farmington is the only Republican who has been vocal about his support for repeal. At least two Democrats are unlikely to support the bill, meaning its chance of passage is looking slim. The bill passed through the House earlier this year, and Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would sign it on one condition: that it won’t change Addison’s death sentence.

Ayotte prosecuted the Addison case when she was attorney general. He faces a death sentence for killing Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. New Hampshire has a narrow set of crimes that can receive the death sentence, and Ayotte reaffirmed her support for the narrow law yesterday. She also spoke against a repeal attempt in 2009, before she was a U.S. senator.

During her 2010 Senate campaign, Ayotte’s Democratic opponent, Paul Hodes, accused her of using the Addison case for political gain. He pointed to emails from 2006 in which Ayotte discussed both a potential political future and the Addison shooting in the same thread. At the time, her spokesman, Jeff Grappone, denied that she was politicizing the tragedy.

Addison could have already faced a life sentence for crimes committed in the lead-up to killing Briggs, Ayotte said yesterday. No greater penalties would have been available for Briggs’s killing without the death penalty, she said. New Hampshire law also allows for the death sentence for murders committed while serving a life sentence in prison, and repealing the law would send a bad message in prisons, Ayotte said.

In death row cases, the state Supreme Court must review the verdict and sentence. It upheld Addison’s capital murder conviction last year but has not ruled on the sentence.

“There seems to be this sort of political discussion out there that somehow they’re going to repeal the death penalty statute and think that it’s not going to have an impact on the sentence in the Addison case,” Ayotte said.

During Senate hearings last week, state Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, questioned whether, if the sentence is upheld, the state would legally be able to execute Addison if the statutes that say how executions take place are repealed.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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