BRENTWOOD, N.H. (AP) – A millionaire businessman was spared the death penalty in what would have been New Hampshire’s first execution since 1939.

The decision by the Rockingham County Superior Court jury means an automatic sentence of life without parole for John Brooks for hiring three men to kidnap and kill a man he believed had stolen from him. Jack Reid was beaten to death with a sledgehammer in 2005.

Brooks’ shoulders sagged briefly as the verdict was announced Thursday and one of his attorneys reached over to hold his arm. Brooks’ wife, Lorraine Brooks, broke down in tears and reached for her sister.

Brooks was pleased with the verdict, defense lawyer Monica Foster said, but she maintained that he didn’t intend for the murder to happen. There are plans to appeal, she said.

Reid’s family left immediately after hearing the verdict. A spokeswoman for them said they respected the jury’s decision but were not prepared to say anything until Friday, at Brook’s sentencing hearing.

New Hampshire – which has another capital murder trial going on, in Manchester – last sentenced someone to die in 1959. Its last execution was in 1939. While Brooks faced prosecution under state law, serial killer Gary Sampson was sentenced in 2004 to be executed in New Hampshire under federal law.

Foster was asked by a reporter if she thought the Michael Addison capital murder case influenced the state Attorney General’s office when deciding to bring the death penalty against Brooks. Addison is accused of fatally shooting a police officer.

“I can tell you what people have told me, and their belief is the attorney general filed this case as a bookend so that they could go after Michael Addison,” Foster said. “I don’t know if that’s what’s going on, honestly.”

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who is prosecuting the Addison case, said her decision to bring the Brooks case forward for the death penalty had nothing to do with any other case, including Addison’s.

Regarding the Brooks case, Ayotte pointed to the length of pre-meditation, the circumstances under which the act was committed, and the defendant’s behavior in prison. “Obviously the jury found sufficient evidence to find him guilty of capital murder,” she said.

New Hampshire’s narrow capital murder law applies to a half-dozen crimes, including killing a police officer, murder for hire and killing during a kidnapping.

Foster said Brooks’ lack of a previous criminal record did not make him a candidate for the death penalty.

“This death penalty would not have been filed in any other state that I have practiced in in my 24 years (of defending capital murder cases),” she said. “Someone needs to think about why this death penalty was filed in this case.”

The jury deliberated for nine hours over two days before reaching its decision. Last month, it convicted Brooks, 56, of Las Vegas, of two counts of capital murder. Prosecutors wanted him executed for covering up the crime and not showing remorse.

The jury found that the state had proved Brooks intentionally killed Reid and that the aggravating factors – such as the violent nature of the crime and the fact he paid people to help him – outweighed the defense’s mitigating factors. These included Brooks’ lack of a previous criminal record and his a success as a businessman.

Despite finding that the state’s aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, the jury still opted to give Brooks life in prison instead of death.

Foster said the jury opted for prison because they found Brooks’ life has value.

“He’s not the kind of people juries routinely kill,” Foster said.

The defense appealed for mercy, asking jurors to consider the good Brooks has done in his life, including protecting his family from his violent, alcoholic father as a child.

His lawyers also pointed to the good done by Polyvac Inc., a surgical instrument company he and his wife started in their Manchester garage and sold for $46 million in 1996.

The prosecution said that didn’t outweigh the heinous crime. Assistant Attorney General Karen Huntress called Brooks a man who had nearly everything.

“In June of 2005, he was able to add one more thing to his list of accomplishments – cold-blooded murder,” she said. “The only appropriate sentence under these circumstances is death and we are going to ask you to sentence the defendant to death.”

Prosecutors also said Brooks had a pattern of reacting violently and vindictively to relatively minor situations and would spend his time in prison gathering and exercising power.

Brooks believed Reid, 57, of Derry, had stolen his personal belongings during a move in 2003. He and three associates he hired allegedly lured Reid to a barn in Deerfield in June 2005 and beat him to death with a sledgehammer.

Two of the men have pleaded guilty and testified against Brooks.

Prosecutors say the conspirators put Reid’s body in the back of his truck and left it in a parking lot in Saugus, Mass., where it was discovered days later.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Brooks planned the murder for two years and covered it up for 18 months. He lied and manipulated friends and family, Assistant Attorney General Kirsten Wilson said, continually choosing a path of crime rather than backing out of murder he set in motion.

Wilson said that even after delivering the fatal blow, Brooks took the sledgehammer and struck Reid in the chest, leaning over his face so Reid could see who did this to him.

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