Monday, November 17, 2008


The Union Leader has published an article about the beginning of the eligibility phase of his trial. Basically, it explains, in brief, what is going to happen and how it will come about.

I read the article, already pretty much knowing how this works. What is more worth reading are all of the reader comments at the bottom of the page. There are a number of divergent viewpoints on what is happening. Some of them are compelling in either direction of whether or not he should he should be made eligible for a death sentence. And this raises more questions - at least it should, even for someone like myself who already has an opinion of how this needs to end. And I have to say that, as always, it has. And some of these comments are worth talking about.

From a reader named Serena who lives in Manchester:

The requirement to find Addison guilty of capital murder was that he
"knowingly" killed Officer Briggs. To find him eligible for the death
penalty, the stakes rise somewhat: he must be found to have "purposely"
killed Officer Briggs in order to evade arrest.

The applicable definitions in law:

(a) "Purposely.'' A person acts purposely with respect to a material
element of an offense when his conscious object is to cause the result
or engage in the conduct that comprises the element.

(b) "Knowingly.'' A person acts knowingly with respect to conduct or to
a circumstance that is a material element of an offense when he is
aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstances

Another comment from Dr. Michael Blankenship of Eagle, Idaho:

Your article was slightly incorrect regarding the process. First, the
jury determines of one or more aggravators exist. If they unanimously
determine that one or more exists, then the jury must determine if one
or more mitigating factors exist; then they must determine of the
mitigator(s) outweigh the aggravating factors.

Mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional per 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Your readers should also know that public support for the death penalty
continues to decline, and that the majority of the world has abandoned
or abolished this failed policy. It costs 2-5 times more than a life
sentence, carries a high risk of ensnaring the innocent, is based on
race and social class, and drags the victims' family and friends to a
"roller coaster" of emotions for decades.

New Jersey recently abolished capital punishment, and a committee has recommended that Maryland follow suit.

Serena's comments are accurate in that this is what the law says with regard to determining eligibility. The doctor's comments are interesting in that I'd forgotten that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional. As for the public support issue, that may be true, and there is certainly a basis of fact for who gets sentenced to death as opposed to who doesn't. In states where the death penalty is actively exercised (Texas and Virginia come to mind), the number of black or hispanic inmates condemned to death is considerably higher than the number of white inmates.

It's a hard issue to talk about, much less deal with actively or in any kind of public forum because of the huge number of opinions out there. And it is also really not a "black and white" issue - pardon the use of phrase. Our legal system has set up the implementation of a death sentence in such a way that there are a number of checks and balances in place. This is done, I would think, to ensure that someone convicted of a crime that warrants death as punishment is not executed in error. The eligibility phase of trial that Michael Addison is going through now is part of this process. If a jury cannot unanimously say that he is eligible for the death penalty, he will automatically be sentenced to life without parole. Otherwise the next phase is sentencing where it will be decided if he is to be executed or not.

The defense's job in this process is to make visible all of those "gray areas" that make this so challenging for juries. They want to convince the jury that Addison didn't kill Michael Briggs "with purpose"; in other words, they want to convince the jury that while he admitted to killing Officer Briggs, he didn't do it "with purpose", as they say in their argument. The prosecution, on the other hand, has statements from witnesses who say that he had planned to "pop a cop" and wouldn't stop at anything to not be taken into custody.

That this was proven in itself fills the need in the legal definitions I mentioned. Also, the weapon he used to shoot Officer Briggs was found not too far from the crime scene. Ballistics analysis matched the round taken from Officer Briggs' brain to the weapon, and there were two rounds jammed into the chamber - convincing, at least to me, that he intended to continue to shoot at the officers on scene who pursued him.

I look at this whole situation, and I can't help but have the view that I do. While the defense will do everything possible (and it is their job to do this) to compel the jury to not find him eligible and, ultimately, give him a life sentence, the State has enough evidence to push for a death sentence.

I, along with many other people, will be watching closely to see what happens next. And I will continue to talk about it here. Comments, as always, are welcome.

No comments: