Appeal rejected in New Hampshire college student murder case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2016 11:18 AM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a man convicted of killing a University of New Hampshire student, denying him a new trial and a chance to introduce evidence of the victim's past sexual interests.

Seth Mazzaglia is serving a life sentence after being convicted of the 2012 murder of 19-year-old Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott of Westborough, Massachusetts. Prosecutors say he strangled the UNH sophomore after she rejected his sexual advances and dumped her body in a river. Mazzaglia said she died accidentally during a consensual sex act.

In his appeal, Mazzaglia's attorneys argued that barring evidence of Marriott's past sexual interests during the trial meant jurors wouldn't accept that she could have agreed to participate in the act in question. But in its unanimous ruling, the state Supreme Court ruled that such evidence was irrelevant to whether she would have consented.

The justices quoted from a previous ruling in which they concluded "Consent to sexual conduct with one person in no way implies consent to such activity with another. Each decision to consent is a new act, a choice made on the circumstances prevailing in the present, not governed by the past."

Mazzaglia's attorney, Chris Johnson, said Wednesday he respects the court's decision but is disappointed that the justices did not agree with what he believes were sound arguments.

In June, the state Supreme Court ruled that information about Marriott's sexual past that was sealed during the trial should be made public during the appeals process, but it later reversed itself after prosecutors and Marriott's family objected. In a statement, Marriott's father said he was relieved by Tuesday's ruling.

"We remain devastated over the loss of our daughter Lizzi and wish that we could see where she would be today had she not been murdered," Bob Marriott said. "We know that we will be reminded of Lizzi's loss every day for the rest of our lives, but we hope that we will be able to begin to move on now that this chapter in our lives has come to a close."

More than a dozen legal, law enforcement and victims' rights organizations also had filed objections with the court, arguing that allowing the information to be made public would decimate the state's rape shield law, which is intended to protect rape victims from having their personal information revealed during criminal proceedings.

"Today the dignity and privacy of Lizzi Marriott has been protected, and justice has been served," said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "Rape victims can now come forward with the peace of mind that the court will focus its attention on the crimes of rapists, not on irrelevant information about them."

Mazzaglia's then-girlfriend, Kathryn McDonough, initially told investigators that Marriott died during rough sex. After getting immunity from prosecution, she changed her story, saying that she lured Marriott to her apartment as a sex offering to her domineering boyfriend and that Mazzaglia killed Marriott after she rejected him. McDonough pleaded guilty to lying about the murder and served a three-year prison sentence.