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Supreme Court Overturns Conviction of Former Portsmouth Police Commissioner

Todd Bookman/NHPR

The state Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a former Portsmouth Police Commissioner who was sentenced to four months in jail for her role in a 2018 shooting.

Brenna Cavanaugh was found guilty of being an accomplice to attempted first degree assault and an accomplice to criminal mischief after prosecutors said she directed her boyfriend Mark Gray to fire a gun at a fleeing pick up truck.

The driver of the pick up, a 16-year old boy who was friends with Cavanaugh’s daughter, had entered Cavanaugh's residence believing there was a party inside. After discovering he was at the wrong house, he immediately left, and was driving away when Gray fired six shots, striking the truck three times. 

Cavanaugh was sentenced to serve 12 months in jail with all but four months suspended, as well as community service time, for telling Gray to shoot at the vehicle.

On appeal, the Supreme Court found in a unanimous opinion released Tuesday that while there was enough evidence to sustain Cavanaugh’s convictions, the trial judge failed to include a a self-defense instruction to the jury.

“Had the instruction been given, it would have been for the jury to decide whether the State had disproved the defendant’s defense of self-defense,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

The justices sent the case back to the Superior Court for a new trial. 

Gray was acquitted of six charges, including attempted first degree assault, in a separate trial by jury.

The teenager, who suffered no physical injuries in the incident, has also filed a civil lawsuit against Gray and Cavanaugh seeking damages. That case is scheduled for trial next June.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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