MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – A New Hampshire jury has convicted a man of murdering a police officer in a case that could result in the state’s first execution in nearly 70 years.

Michael Addison, 28, showed no emotion as he was convicted Thursday of capital murder in the 2006 death of 35-year-old Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, whose wife and two young sons were in the courtroom. The verdict came after 12 hours of deliberations spread over three days.

Many police officers who were present burst into tears or let out a sigh of relief when they heard the verdict. Briggs’ wife, Laura Briggs, smiled after the jurors left and hugged the prosecutors.

The defense conceded that Addison shot Briggs but argued it was second-degree murder because he acted recklessly, not knowingly. Addison’s lawyers left without commenting.

Prosecutors countered that Addison knew the police were after him and had told friends he would “pop a cop” if necessary to avoid arrest.

Jurors now must decide whether to sentence Addison to death or life in prison; they return to court on Monday to start that process.

Manchester Deputy Police Chief Gary Simmons said the department was relieved that this stage of the trial is over.

“We’ve been in the business long enough that we understand you have to wait and let the jury weigh things out on their own, and that’s what they did,” he said.

The state’s first capital murder verdict since 1959 came last month in the murder-for-hire case of millionaire John Brooks. Last week, however, that jury spared Brooks the death penalty and voted to send him to prison for life with no chance for parole.

The state’s last execution was in 1939.

The key question in Addison’s case was whether he acted knowingly or recklessly when he fired the fatal shot 15 minutes before Briggs’ shift ended.

The defense acknowledges that Addison, who lives in Manchester, shot Briggs, but said the act was reckless and unintentional. In closing arguments, defense lawyer Caroline Smith said the jury should convict Addison of the lesser crime of second-degree murder.

She said a second-degree murder conviction, punishable by up to life in prison, would not diminish the tragedy of Briggs’ death.

Prosecutor Will Delker argued that Addison’s statements and actions before, during and after the shooting show that he intended to kill.

“This crime didn’t happen in an instant like the defense wants you to believe,” he said. “The murder was just the final, fatal decision … in a series of choices he made along the way.”

“It was a foregone conclusion,” Delker said.

The prosecution opened the trial with emotional testimony from a number of police officers who were at the scene. Briggs’ bicycle patrol partner, Officer John Breckinridge, choked up on the stand as he recalled seeing Briggs fall after being shot.

Police were looking for Addison and his friend Antoine Bell-Rogers because they were suspects in a series of recent shootings and armed robberies. They found the pair in an alley around 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2006. Police testified that Briggs told them to stop three times before he was shot.

Prosecutors produced six witnesses who said they heard Addison threaten to use violence if he encountered the police, including saying he would “pop a cop.” Challenged by the defense, many admitted lying to police when they were first interviewed, and some acknowledged striking deals with the state in exchange for their testimony.

The defense called five witnesses, all police officers, to rebut earlier testimony.

At the time of his arrest, Addison was described in court documents as an unemployed father of two children, ages 2 and 8.

In 2004, a federal judge in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty, designated New Hampshire as the site for the execution of a man convicted of a two-state killing spree in 2001. Gary Sampson, a drifter from Abington, Mass., is in a federal prison in Indiana while his case is on appeal.

AP-ES-11-13-08 1717EST

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