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N.H. officials discuss the prospect of execution

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire — which last executed an inmate more than 70 years ago, by hanging — would likely carry out an execution in a prison gymnasium rather than construct a costly death chamber for its lone death row prisoner, Corrections Commissioner William Wren said Wednesday.

Addressing a symposium on the death penalty at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, Wren said he and his staff are ‘‘dusting off’’ execution protocols from the 1930s but the $1.8 million needed to build a lethal injection chamber is not in the cards in a state where inmates are so rarely condemned to death.

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The symposium offered a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the case of Michael Addison, sentenced to death in 2008 for gunning down Manchester police officer Michael Briggs following a violent crime spree. If the state’s highest court upholds his conviction and death sentence, Addison could be the first convict executed in New Hampshire since 1939.

Wren said Addison does not really live on ‘‘death row’’ because the state no longer has one. He is housed in the state prison’s maximum security unit.

Panelists made it clear Addison’s case threw a curve at a state criminal justice system that had no modern-day experience with capital litigation.

Attorney Chris Keating, who supervised Addison’s defense, said there was no legal ‘‘infrastructure’’ in place for a death penalty case — no bank of motions built from cases, no expertise, and a dearth of resources to handle the astronomical costs of such a case. He likened it to being told to build a nuclear bomb for the first time.

‘‘The stakes are really high if I get it wrong,’’ he said.

Keating said he and former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte had to approach the Executive Council to fund their case.

Judge Tina Nadeau, chief judge of the superior court, said capital cases magnify all aspects of a trial.

‘‘It’s like due process on steroids,’’ she said.

For instance, the judge who presided over Addison’s case typically issues two or three orders during a murder trial, ­Nadeau said. In ­Addison’s, she filled two binders.

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