Ray Duckler: A balancing act between sadness, justice in Addison case
Michael Addison enters the Hillsborough County Superior Court House to face the jury. He received the death penalty in the killing of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.
(Ken Williams/Monitor file)
Michael Briggs's photograph with the Manchester Police Department.
This may surprise you, but Nick Willard, the lead investigator in the Michael Addison case, says he’s in no rush.
No rush for a final resolution. No rush to put Addison to death, even though seven years ago he killed Michael Briggs, one of Willard’s comrades on the Manchester police force.
Let the state’s high court do its job, says the assistant chief of the Manchester Police Department. Let the court look at other, similar murder cases, the path it chose Wednesday, and decide whether the death sentence in this one was excessive or disproportionate in comparison.
Don’t be so quick to judge.
“Given the gravity of the sentence, it being the death penalty, I think it’s important that the Supreme Court does its due diligence and Michael Addison gets the absolute opportunity to challenge the legal system,” Willard said this week, hours after the court decided to review Addison’s sentence. “We’re talking about putting a man to death.”
Willard has been on the Manchester force for more than 20 years. He’s a straight shooter who did not hesitate when asked about the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision.
He said it reflects a court
and a state that care. He said vengeance should not be part of this process.
“The time I shudder is when I hear that (Addison) should be executed, that mentality,” Willard said. “It’s a level of frustration that it has not already happened. I find such contempt in that attitude. I think it’s wrong.”
Meanwhile, the ruling said a lot. It also left us wondering.
The court upheld Addison’s murder conviction for killing Briggs, a Manchester cop who graduated from Pembroke Academy and lived in Concord. It said the jury’s 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.”
Finally, the court ruled that New Hampshire’s death penalty law does not violate the state Constitution.
But it also said this: “We note that our review of the defendant’s sentence is not yet complete.”
Which means the waiting continues, connected to a story that won’t go away. It began in a dark alleyway in downtown Manchester in October 2006, when Briggs was shot in the head during his late-night bike patrol.
It continued through a trial and an appeals process and a long wait – a year, in fact – while the Supreme Court made up its mind.
Meanwhile, we learned that Briggs was viewed as a special kind of cop, one who ran into a burning building to save lives, and spoke to and treated people on his beat, many of whom possessed a sharp edge, with respect and patience.
We saw an amazing outpouring of love and respect, unprecedented in Manchester, during a ceremony that moved through the downtown and included a vigil at the city’s minor league baseball stadium, where 4,000 people packed the place.
Briggs was a patrolman in Manchester, Willard his supervisor. With Briggs’s wife, Laura, unreachable for comment, and his mother, Maryann, of Epsom, declining an interview request, Willard was our peek inside this sad and compelling case.
Willard praised Briggs, saying, “A good man and an exceptional cop. When I was a sergeant in the detective’s division and he was a uniformed patrolman, he was the one who came upstairs to assist us with our cases. He was engaging.”
Willard revealed that Briggs was upset with the state for not pursuing the death penalty against Gordon Perry, who killed Jeremy Charron of the Epsom police force in 1997. Briggs had served as a pallbearer at Charron’s funeral.
“He did take issues with the state of New Hampshire,” Willard said. “He wanted the state to seek the death penalty. It would be safe to assume that he would have wanted the death penalty in his own case.”
Willard would not reveal his own view on the death penalty, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate or professional.
But his faith in the judicial system, his trust in our courts and our judges, was not shaken after we learned that Addison’s fate will require more research.
“How can I be a police officer and not respect how our system works?” Willard said. “If I didn’t think that way, I should be doing something else.”
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Addison’s defense team argued that their client had not gotten a fair trial, nor had he been sentenced fairly. They claimed Addison fired his gun in panic, not with purpose.
This week, Willard described the shooting this way: “Officer Briggs was within inches of him when (Addison) spun around and put a bullet into his head. (Briggs) never had an opportunity to draw his weapon.”
Willard then paused to balance the horror of losing a colleague, a hero, with his faith in our system.
“I believe that even though Briggs wasn’t afforded justice or due diligence,” Willard said, “Addison should.”