N.H. Supreme Court ruling on rape shield law condemned by victim’s family, advocates

  • Melissa Marriott, mother of murder and rape victim Lizzi Marriott, speaks at a press conference held Tuesday at the New Hampshire Legislative Office Building. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • Melissa Marriott, mother of Lizzi Marriott, speaks at the press conference on June 14, 2016 held at the NH Legislative Office Building (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Rus Rilee, Attorney for the Marriott Family, speaks at the press conference held at the NH Legislative Office Building in Concord NH on June 14, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Bob Marriott, Father of Lizzie Marriott, speaks at the press conference held on June 14,2016 at the Nh Legislative Office Building in Concord NH (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Melissa Marriott, mother of Lizzi Marriott, speaks at the press conference on June 14, 2016 held at the NH Legislative Office Building (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Rus Rilee, Attorney for the Marriott Family, speaks at the press conference held at the NH Legislative Office Building in Concord NH on June 14, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Lyn Schollett, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence speaks at the press conference held at the UH Legislative Office Building on June 14, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Bob Marriott, Father of Lizzie Marriott, speaks at the press conference held on June 14,2016 at the Nh Legislative Office Building in Concord NH (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Lyn Schollett, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence speaks at the press conference held at the UH Legislative Office Building on June 14, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

Monitor staff
Published: 6/14/2016 9:33:45 PM

The state Supreme Court’s order to unveil sealed allegations about the prior sexual history of a rape and murder victim – overturning the practice of the trial court – has stunned advocacy groups and the victim’s family, who say the decision is a dismantling of the state’s rape shield law.

The court’s ruling landed Friday in response to a motion made by the appeal attorney for Seth Mazzaglia, the 32-year-old who was sentenced to life in prison for raping and murdering Lizzi Marriott, a 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student, and disposing her body off Peirce Island in Portsmouth in 2012.

The ruling would have taken effect today – unsealing information that was deemed inadmissible at trial – even before the Supreme Court justices determine whether it should be allowed in Mazzaglia’s appeal. But the justices quickly granted an emergency stay Tuesday morning, effectively pausing the disclosure until the attorney general can make an argument as to why it should remain confidential.

“The court’s decision to make these documents public is giving this convicted rapist and murderer – and by extension, every convicted rapist and murderer – the power to threaten their victims with the most fundamental violation of their privacy, even after there’s been a determination of guilt,” the Marriott family’s attorney, Rus Rilee, said.

Rape shield laws exist in every state and limit or prohibit the use of evidence of a victim’s sexual history to undermine his or her credibility.

Lizzi’s father, Bob Marriott, wrapped his arm around her mother, Melissa Marriott, on Tuesday in the Legislative Office Building, as they explained that they’ve remained willfully ignorant of the dozens of pages of details that would be released. Melissa Marriott said she felt betrayed by the state’s highest court, “the very institution I would have expected to protect a crime victim’s interest.”

“Why would you ever help in any investigation, knowing that any private information you provide . . . can be made public on appeal?” she asked. “What use is there to having a victims’ bill of rights and a rape shield law when they become moot when the person found guilty appeals the conviction?”

A rule change that took effect at the beginning of this year allows Supreme Court justices to unseal previously confidential material in the interest of transparency. The five justices wrote in their order – after seeking input from both sides – that “the public’s constitutionally-protected right to open courtrooms and access to court proceedings requires that the sealed portion of the trial court record and the unredacted briefs and appendices be available for public review.”

The court’s stay, issued Tuesday, will halt the disclosure and allow the attorney general’s office the opportunity to file a motion to reconsider the order. Rilee, the family’s attorney, said he also filed a motion to intervene.

The stay will remain in effect “until after the motion to reconsider is either granted or denied,” Rilee said in an interview with reporters. The Friday ruling came as “a total surprise to the family,” he said, prompting a hurried effort to beat the anticipated release before today.

In case their effort is unsuccessful, the Marriott family called on the news media not to publish information about their teenage daughter’s private life.

“How is it fair that the public is allowed to get access to private and irrelevant information that my family made a choice to never hear about?” Bob Marriott asked. “My daughter’s private life is not something that should be discussed over dinner and is not a movie or TV show.”

The executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violance, Lyn Schollett, said under this ruling, prosecutors can no longer promise victims that their privacy is protected, turning back the clock in a state that was one of the first in the country to adopt a rape shield law in 1975.

“To provide a victim with privacy at the trial court level, then to strip it away at a higher court, is nothing short of a bait and switch, punishing the victim,” she said.

If the ruling doesn’t change, she said, surrounded by high-ranking lawmakers, her organization will work to strengthen the laws that protect victims.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)




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