By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: March 25, 2009
A Connecticut man who was sent to prison Tuesday for committing a string of alcohol-fueled crimes in New Hampshire is a modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his public defender said.
Kenneth W. Jefferson, 36, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to charges of robbery, theft, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property, reckless conduct and being a felon in possession of a gun.
Jefferson was sentenced to N.H. State Prison for four to 12 years, followed by a suspended jail sentence of 31/2 to seven years. The jail sentence could be imposed if he gets into any more trouble with the law in the next 15 years.
“I think you realize you’re lucky you didn’t kill someone,” Judge Brian T. Tucker said before handing down the sentence. “You’ll have to use the time in prison to turn things around, otherwise you’ll find yourself back here.”
The series of crimes that led Jefferson to Tucker’s courtroom began the weekend of June 13, 2008, when he began drinking and tried to kill himself by crashing a car into a tree in Hamden, Conn., public defender Alex S. Parsons said in court.
“He wanted to die, but he was afraid to do it,” Parsons said. “He was afraid to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.”
The failed suicide attempt was the start of a five-day bender in which Jefferson stole a gun and a dump truck, robbed two convenience stores, led police on a high-speed pursuit and escaped in a stolen SUV, according to an affidavit prepared by N.H. State Police Sgt. Russell B. Lamson.
Jefferson said in court that his life went into a downward spiral when he was a teen and his parents split. He said he started drinking and smoking marijuana, and later developed a serious cocaine habit and became an alcoholic.
He’d been an honor student in high school and was accepted to the University of Notre Dame, but was unable to attend after the divorce, he said.
He was convicted of assault, burglary and criminal restraint in Connecticut and Vermont in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Melissa A. Pierce.
In 2006, Jefferson was sent to a Connecticut prison for six months on a larceny conviction. He received substance abuse treatment in prison and managed to stay sober for a year before the crash, but fell off the wagon after he lost his girlfriend and his job.
“I just didn’t have the will to live anymore,” said Jefferson, a large, stocky man with a shaved head and a dark black goatee.
“There are two Kens: The normal Ken, when he’s not drinking, who is good and nice and a family man and a hard worker,” Parsons said. “Then there is the Ken who is affected by drugs and alcohol.”
After walking away from the crash, Jefferson stole a dump truck from a construction site two miles away. He then drove to a friend’s house in Wilmington, Vt. He stayed there for three days, and stole a Tec-9 submachine gun from his friend before leaving, Pierce said.
A surveillance camera at the Wal-Mart in Hinsdale recorded Jefferson trying to buy a single bullet and arguing with a clerk who refused to sell him one, Parsons said. Jefferson eventually bought a box of bullets and left the store.
Witnesses later saw Jefferson speeding out of a gas station in Spofford, where he pumped $100 of fuel into the dump truck without paying.
He walked into a convenience store in Dummerston, Vt., that evening and ordered the clerk to give him money while displaying the submachine gun tucked in his waistband, but the clerk refused and he left after stealing a 12-pack of Twisted Tea, an alcoholic beverage, according to police.
Early the next morning, Jefferson tried to rob the Big S Discount Store in Winchester, and was also turned away. He stole five cartons of cigarettes before he walked out.
“They thought it was a joke,” Parsons said of the two clerks who refused to give Jefferson any cash. “It was almost laughable. It was, frankly, pitiful, desperate and despondent.”
Jefferson still planned to kill himself after he crashed the car in Connecticut, but kept putting suicide off to continue drinking and committing crimes, Parsons said.
“This was a terrified, wounded animal acting out of extreme despondency and intoxication,” he said.
Winchester police spotted the stolen dump truck and chased it into Massachusetts, then back into New Hampshire at speeds that reached 100 mph. The truck’s front tires blew out during the pursuit, and the rims shot sparks off the pavement as the chase continued, according to Pierce.
The truck eventually turned into Pisgah State Park in Winchester, where it stopped and suddenly reversed into a cruiser driven by N.H. State Police Trooper Sean Eaton, setting off the airbag and causing minor injuries to Eaton’s head.
Fellow Trooper Daniel Brow attempted to shoot out the truck’s rear, dual tires as it drove deeper into the park.
Jefferson then ditched the truck and disappeared into the woods. He emerged hours later and stole an SUV parked in a driveway on Old Spofford Road.
Days later, Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend told police that she picked him up in Connecticut after he ditched the SUV. He was arrested without incident July 3.
Jefferson became teary-eyed and choked up while apologizing in court for what he’d done.
He said he believes his addiction may be the result of an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and that his drinking and drug use is self-medicating.
“I can’t apologize enough to the people I’ve hurt,” he said, “and I will do all I can to get the help I need.”
The sentencing hearing in Cheshire County was only the beginning for Jefferson.
His case in Connecticut is resolved, but he still faces charges in Massachusetts and Vermont stemming from the chase and first convenience store robbery.