Archive for August, 2009


Sentinel Staff

Simon with his public defender. Credit: Steve Hooper, Sentinel Staff

Simon with his public defender. Credit: Steve Hooper, Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: August 27, 2009

The Brattleboro man accused of wreaking havoc on Keene roads last week will undergo a mental competency evaluation before his case moves forward in court.

The evidence hearing scheduled Wednesday at Keene District Court for Peter J. Simon was postponed until a psychiatrist from the N.H. State Hospital in Concord evaluates Simon and determines whether he is competent.

Public defender Matt Hill, who represents Simon, 39, requested the evaluation. He did not return a message seeking comment.

Simon was working at C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. in Brattleboro as a grocery selector for the last six or seven months while living in hotels in Brattleboro, according to a friend of Simon who was in court Wednesday.

The friend, who asked to remain anonymous, worked with Simon at C&S and the two often drove to work together. He described Simon as a quiet loner and said he believes Simon has no family or other close friends in the area.

He said he believes he was the last person to speak with Simon Friday morning before Simon allegedly led police on a high-speed chase through Keene and then crashed his pickup into a bus.

Simon called at about 7:30 a.m. He was crying and saying he was stressed during the 10-minute conversation, the friend said. Simon gave no indication that he was suicidal or taking illegal drugs, he said.

“I don’t think he was on anything other than what he was prescribed,” he said. He declined to say what types of prescription medications Simon was taking.

Before Simon began staying at hotels, he lived at the Phoenix House Brattleboro Center, a substance abuse treatment facility, and had numerous run-ins with the law, according to police. But he’d recently gotten his life back on track and bought a Dodge Ram pickup, the friend said.

He and Simon planned to meet Friday afternoon and work on the pickup, which Simon meticulously cared for. But the meeting never happened, and the next time the friend heard about Simon it was from the evening news.

“He didn’t give any indication (during the phone conversation) that it was this bad,” he said.

Police said they began chasing Simon’s black pickup after other drivers reported seeing it heading into oncoming traffic on Route 12. The pickup did doughnuts in the parking lot outside the N.H. State Police Troop C barracks in Keene during the chase before it jumped several curbs and entered the nearby Monadnock Marketplace shopping center, police said.

Trooper Kelly Wardner fired several shots at the pickup as it exited the shopping center. Several shots hit the driver’s side of the pickup, but not Simon, police said.

Witness Clay Bradley, 45, of Marlow said Wardner was not in danger and acted recklessly, while Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said the shooting was justified because the trooper feared for her life and the lives of others.

The N.H. State Police Major Crimes Unit in Concord continues to investigate Wardner’s decision to open fire. She remains on active duty.

After the pickup exited the shopping center it made a left turn toward the Winchester Street-Route 101 roundabout and suddenly veered from the eastbound lane into the westbound lane of traffic, police said.

A horrific crash ensued. The pickup collided head-on with a 33-passenger Thomas Transportation bus carrying two people and its engine burst into flames.

The bus driver, Michael Baker, escaped the crash with minor injuries, but the passenger, R. Edward Heywood, suffered extensive head and facial injuries and had to be flown to a trauma center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

Heywood, a former Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School principal who lives in Rindge, was in a medically induced coma after the crash because of brain swelling. He has emerged from the coma and the swelling has subsided, but he needs facial reconstruction surgery.

Heywood, 61, was recently hired as a driver for Thomas Transportation and was being driven to pick up his commercial driver’s license when the crash occurred.

A bloody Simon exited his burning pickup after the crash, attempted to carjack a passing vehicle and then ran to a nearby fast food restaurant, where he begged employees to kill him, according to police and witnesses.

Simon was shocked with a Taser twice before he was handcuffed. He screamed phrases such as “Brattleboro, I’m alive!” and “They’re gonna kill me” before he was loaded into an ambulance.

Simon was released from the hospital hours after the crash. The top of his head is lacerated and he had trouble walking in court.

He is charged with two counts of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon (the pickup) and one count each of resisting arrest and disobeying police.

Simon is being held at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland for lack of $100,000 bail.

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SWAT team


Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: August 26, 2009

CONCORD — The state’s special operations teams could use more training and more members, but protocols the police groups follow meet or surpass national standards, according to an independent review ordered in the wake of a deadly gunfight.

The National Tactical Officers Association released its glowing review of the N.H. State Police SWAT team and the state’s 10 regional special operations teams Tuesday at the N.H. Police Standards and Training Council headquarters in Concord.

The council, a state agency supported with taxpayer dollars, was billed $48,554 for the review.

The council commissioned the review after a special operations team, which is similar to a SWAT team and comprised of local police and sheriff’s officials, was involved in a fatal gun battle July 26, 2008, in Charlestown.

While serving a search warrant, members of the Western N.H. Special Operation Unit and other law enforcement agencies found convicted felon Anthony “Tony” Jarvis Sr., 53, holed up inside a camper and learned that he was possibly armed. When Jarvis refused to exit the camper, police tossed a flash-bang smoke grenade inside and N.H. State Police Trooper Phillip Gaiser entered.

Jarvis opened fire with a handgun, shooting Gaiser twice in the leg and once in the hand. Gaiser returned fire and killed Jarvis, who was drunk, according to a report from the N.H. Attorney General’s Office.

The report from then-Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte concluded that Gaiser, who survived the ordeal, was justified in shooting Jarvis, but also raised serious concerns about how the incident was handled.

Ayotte’s concerns, which centered on rampant miscommunication among police — Gaiser was never told that Jarvis was likely armed before he entered the smoke-filled camper holding his Taser, for example — were forwarded to the standards and training council.

The council then hired the National Tactical Officers Association to review the state’s special operations teams. The association is a seven-member board comprised of active and retired law enforcement officials from Arizona, California and Pennsylvania.

The board looked at the policies and procedures that the state’s special operations teams have in place, but did not review the Charlestown shootout.

Department of Corrections Commissioner William L. Wrenn and the standards and training council refused to discuss the shootout or the attorney general’s concerns with the incident when the board’s report was presented to state law enforcement officials and reporters.

The board concluded that rapport among the special operations teams has recently improved; the teams are capable of handling myriad crisis situations, such as hostage negotiations; they have the best available non-lethal equipment, such as Tasers; and they are following nationally accepted policies and procedures.

While highly complimentary of the state’s special operations teams, the board issued several recommendations for improvement:

● The standards and training council should work more closely with the teams during training sessions.

● Each member of every team should receive at least 16 hours of firearms and tactical training a month. Members have received an average of eight hours of training a month.

● The size of each team should gradually increase from the minimum 18 members to up to 30 members.

The standards and training council will consider the board’s recommendations over the next several months before deciding whether any policy changes should be made, Wrenn said.

“I think this is a target we can certainly strive for,” he said.

Review board member Ronald M. McCarthy, a former Los Angeles Police Special Weapons and Tactics supervisor, said the Granite State’s regional special operations police teams are groundbreaking.

“I think you’ve started something here in New Hampshire that’s going to be copied nationwide,” he said.

The state’s special operations teams rank among the top 10 percent of similarly sized teams across the nation in terms of hiring standards, training, model protocols and equipment, according to the review board.

“You have competent people who care about your teams. The sheriffs and chiefs of police are doing a fine job in my opinion,” said board member Brock J. Simon, a retired Los Angeles County deputy sheriff.

McCarthy stressed that the board is not a “rubber stamp for law enforcement” and has issued unflattering reviews of other law enforcement organizations, including the SWAT team in Tulsa, Okla., which McCarthy called a “threat to the community.”

McCarthy was also hired by the city of Seattle as a consultant to review the World Trade Organization conference riots in 1999 and found that then-Mayor Paul Schell and city police were to blame for the infamous “Battle in Seattle.”

“We do honest evaluations,” McCarthy said. “We have a history of being critical when we think people have not lived up to the standards that they should.”

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Cassidy NicosiaBy PHILLIP BANTZ

Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: August 24, 2009

A topless teenage girl with a handgun holstered on her hip was arrested Sunday afternoon near a busy intersection in downtown Keene.

Cassidy Nicosia, 18, was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure at about 1:30 p.m. near the Main-Marlboro-Winchester streets roundabout.

Nicosia was arrested after police answered multiple complaint calls about a topless girl walking through downtown Keene with a group of armed protesters affiliated with the Free State Project, Keene police Sgt. James A. Cemorelis said.

The Free State Project is an effort to convince 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire and participate in activism and run for local and state office.

Only 743 people have made the move and another 9,585 have committed to moving since a majority of project members voted on the Live Free or Die state as a home base nearly six years ago, according to the project’s Web site.

Nicosia lists Manchester as her current residence and Houston, Texas, as her hometown on the social networking Web site MySpace.

In an online video of Nicosia’s protest and arrest, she explains why she decided to go topless in public.

“I chose to do it because this is one of the most important issues to me is equality … men can walk down the street … and, you know, not get harassed at all but yet somehow this is dirty,” she says.

Shirtless men, some holding video cameras, are standing around Nicosia during the protest. Women who are wearing tops are also standing with her.

“She (Nicosia) was the only woman there who did not have her breasts covered,” Cemorelis said.

When the police arrive, the video shows Nicosia and others in her group arguing with them and requesting to be left alone.

“In an effort to be reasonable, we asked her many times to put her shirt on and be on her way,” Cemorelis said. “She absolutely refused to do so.”

Nicosia eventually agrees to put on a top, but only after she is arrested. She gives the gun she was carrying to another member of her group before the arrest. State law does not require residents to have permits to openly carry firearms.

While going through the booking process at the Keene Police Department, Nicosia refused to provide identification, Cemorelis said.

Other members of the Free State Project have also refused to identify themselves for police and government officials. One member, Samuel Miller, who also left Texas for the Granite State, spent nearly 60 days in jail because he would not provide his name to police or a judge.

Nicosia, though, decided to provide identification after speaking with police.

“We explained to her that the crime didn’t warrant her being held on bail,” Cemorelis said. “But if she didn’t provide us with identifying information, we’d more likely than not have to hold her until she could see the judge (Monday) morning.”

Nicosia was released with a summons to appear Sept. 9 at Keene District Court for arraignment.

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Peter Simon

Peter J. Simon

Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: August 22, 2009

The man accused of leading police on a high-speed chase Friday that involved gunshots being fired at his pickup and left a bus passenger critically injured was arraigned later the same day while wearing a hospital gown.

The top of his head marked with lacerations, Peter J. Simon, 39, learned in Keene District Court about the charges he faces so far: two counts of reckless conduct and one count each of resisting arrest and disobeying police.

Judge Edward J. Burke set Simon’s bail at $100,000 after hearing a rundown of his criminal history, which spans from Arizona to Montana and includes convictions for battery on police officers, fleeing police, assault and being a fugitive from justice, according to Keene police Lt. Peter S. Thomas.

Simon’s last known address is the Phoenix House Brattleboro Center. But Simon is no longer a resident of the substance abuse treatment center, according to Richard Turner, vice president of Phoenix Houses of New England.

Citing privacy laws, Turner declined to disclose details about Simon’s time at Phoenix House or where he went after he left.

Simon did not have an attorney during the arraignment and appeared disoriented in court. He asked if he could make a phone call and, later, if he could press charges against the N.H. State Police trooper who fired shots at the pickup he was driving during the chase.

“So because I didn’t stop you guys shot at me,” he said, “and then I ran into somebody else.”

Simon had just arrived at the arraignment from Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, where he was taken after the crash.

Medical staff cleared Simon to leave the hospital and attend the arraignment. He was taken to the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland after the hearing.

Police began chasing after a black Dodge Ram pickup Simon was driving after other drivers spotted him heading the wrong way on Route 12 and driving over curbs and medians, according to Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

The pickup also rammed the back of a red car on Route 12, Thomas said. Police want to speak with the driver of that car as part of their criminal investigation against Simon.

The pickup eventually turned into the Monadnock Marketplace during the chase and began tearing around the parking lot of the nearby N.H. State Police Troop C barracks, police said. The pickup then headed into the shopping center and made a U-turn, according to witnesses.

Trooper Kelly Wardner stopped her cruiser near the middle of the road at the exit of the shopping center, stepped out of the vehicle and fired several shots at the driver’s side of the pickup as it passed her, according to court documents Burke read during Simon’s arraignment.

Some of the shots hit the pickup, which exited the shopping center, made a left turn toward the Winchester Street-Route 101 roundabout and then veered from the eastbound lane into the westbound lane, police said.

Michael Baker, a driver for Thomas Transportation, was driving a bus in the westbound lane when he saw the pickup coming toward him and tried to avoid a collision, according to the transportation company’s owner, Ed Thomas.

“It was my understanding that the pickup truck was intentionally trying to hit him,” Ed Thomas said.

Ed Heywood, who was recently hired by the transportation company, was sitting in the passenger seat of the bus, Ed Thomas said. He said Baker was driving Heywood to the Division of Motor Vehicles office, which is near the state police barracks, so Heywood could pick up his commercial driver’s license.

Baker and Heywood were the only people in the 33-passenger bus when the pickup collided with it head-on.

The front passenger side of the pickup smashed into the front passenger side of the bus, spraying debris from both vehicles over the road.

While Baker suffered minor injuries in the crash, Heywood was critically injured and had to be flown by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. His condition was not available.

Simon allegedly exited the pickup after the collision, attempted to carjack a passing vehicle — police also want to speak with this driver — and then ran across a field to a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant on Key Road.

Employees at the restaurant said a bloody Simon asked if someone would kill him and vaulted the counter before police arrived. They said Simon ripped the barbs from a trooper’s Taser out of his back and was Tasered again in the neck before he was arrested.

Wardner remained on active duty after the shooting — she pulled the trigger because she believed the pickup Simon was driving was going to injure or kill her or someone else, according to Heed.

Under state law, officers may use deadly force in defense of themselves or others who they believe are in danger of being seriously injured or killed. Officers may also use lethal force if they are trying to stop a person who is committing a felony that involves violence, a deadly weapon or poses a serious danger to others.

A passer-by during the shooting, Clay Bradley, 45, of Marlow, said he had to “hit the deck” because he thought one of the bullets from Wardner’s gun was going to strike him. He said Wardner fired three shots at the pickup.

Bradley also said he did not believe the pickup was going to hit Wardner or anyone else in the vicinity when Wardner opened fire.

The N.H. State Police Major Crimes Unit in Concord continues to investigate the shooting. Capt. Mark J. Myrdek, who is involved with the investigation, declined comment.

“We’re still trying to make sure we get all the facts together,” he said.

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Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: August 15, 2009

HINSDALE — Wal-Mart is one step closer to buying land that is tied up in legal red tape because its former owner is the bankrupt Hinsdale Greyhound Park.

A bankruptcy trustee has lifted a pending lawsuit attached to the 23 acres off Route 119 in Hinsdale that Wal-Mart wants to buy for $2.1 million to build a Supercenter.

The sale, which has been in the works for about three years, is expected to close Aug. 26.

The track’s president, Joseph E. Sullivan 3rd, and a business partner, Carl B. Thomas of Spofford-based Thomas Construction Corp., are part owners of the holding company that is trying to sell the land to Wal-Mart.

Sullivan and Thomas formed Hinsdale Real Estate LLC a little more than a year before the track filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2008.

When the track closed, dozens of bettors were told that an estimated $500,000 in their wagering accounts was lost. Their money had been commingled with the track’s general funds, a practice that the N.H. Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission made illegal shortly after the track closed.

Sullivan’s bankruptcy attorney, John M. Sullivan of Concord, said bettors were kept in the dark so the track, which was in financial turmoil, would have enough money to pay its 49 employees for the last time.

The track also owes more than $1.2 million to other creditors who did business with it, including telephone companies, food vendors and greyhound tracks across the country for simulcast betting.

Joseph Sullivan also took out $650,000 in loans from the track that he hasn’t repaid. He has declined to say where the money went.

As the court-appointed trustee in the track’s bankruptcy case, Michael A. Askenaizer has been selling off the track’s assets to help repay its creditors. He’s also investigating whether the bankruptcy filing involves fraudulent transfers of property, perjury or is an abuse of the bankruptcy system.

The N.H. Attorney General’s Office has cleared Sullivan of any criminal wrongdoing. Some bettors accused him of stealing the money in their accounts.

In looking at Sullivan’s land deal with Hinsdale Real Estate, Askenaizer began to question the relatively low price tag Sullivan attached to the property: $3.3 million for the track’s 106 acres and every building on the property.

Sullivan and Thomas deny that the land deal was fraudulent.

They say the holding company paid a fair price for the land and selling the land was the only way to keep the track afloat during the year before it shut down, because there were no other financing options, according to court documents prepared by Askenaizer.

Because of his concerns about the deal, which remains under investigation, Askenaizer filed a pending lawsuit with the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds on the property. The pending lawsuit warns potential buyers, such as Wal-Mart, that if they purchase the land, they could be implicated in lawsuits stemming from the bankruptcy case.

Wal-Mart said it would back out of the deal if the pending lawsuit was not lifted from the land it wants to buy. This prompted Askenaizer to ask a judge at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester for permission to lift the pending lawsuit, but only on the property that interests Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart would be able to buy the land and would be protected from any lawsuits associated with the track’s bankruptcy.

If the deal goes through, $500,000 from the sale must be placed in an escrow account that cannot be touched until the bankruptcy case is resolved. The money could be used to repay creditors.

In his request to remove the pending lawsuit, Askenaizer said he wants the Wal-Mart deal to work because the retail giant’s presence will increase the value of the land surrounding the store, which may help repay the track’s debt.

Askenaizer did not return messages seeking comment.

Jennifer Rood, an attorney for the track’s biggest bettors, also could not be reached.

One of the bettors Rood represents, Herschel Bird of Nevada, stands to lose nearly $140,000 he had in a wagering account at the track.

Bird said he will not fight the Wal-Mart land deal if it helps creditors get paid.

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Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: August 13, 2009

The N.H. Attorney General’s Office has cleared the president of the bankrupt Hinsdale Greyhound Park of any criminal wrongdoing after bettors accused him of stealing money from their wagering accounts.

However, a bankruptcy trustee continues to investigate the multimillion-dollar land deal track president Joseph E. Sullivan 3rd made before the bankruptcy. The trustee is also looking at loans Sullivan took from the track.

When the track closed in December 2008, dozens of bettors with an estimated $500,000 in their wagering accounts were told their money was gone, because the cash had been commingled with the track’s general funds.

Sullivan’s bankruptcy attorney, John M. Sullivan of Concord, said bettors were kept in the dark so the track, which was in financial turmoil, would have enough money to pay its 49 employees for the last time.

In the wake of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy, some bettors filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office alleging fraud and theft, spurring the criminal investigation, said Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley, who handled the inquiry.

“Our focus was whether there was any criminal wrongdoing. We were not looking into bad business practices. And in looking at state law, we found there was no violation,” Hinckley said. “The regulations at the time were ambiguous and there was no duty to separate or segregate the betting funds from general operating funds.”

The loophole was closed shortly after Hinsdale went bankrupt. Tracks are now required to maintain reserve accounts to ensure bettors are not left holding the bag in the aftermath of bankruptcy or closure.

N.H. Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission Chairman Timothy J. Connors said Joseph Sullivan assured commissioners during closed-door meetings before the bankruptcy that bettors would be paid if the track closed.

The meetings were private because the track’s finances were being discussed, Connors said.

At a public meeting with creditors in January, Joseph Sullivan said he never made any promises to protect the bettors.

The commission also took its concerns about Joseph Sullivan’s handling of the bankruptcy to the Attorney General’s Office, which can reopen its criminal investigation if new information comes to light as the case moves forward in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester.

The bankruptcy trustee, Michael S. Askenaizer, and his attorney, Steven M. Notinger, both of Nashua, are investigating the land deal Joseph Sullivan made and a $650,000 loan he took from the track in the years before the closure.

A trustee is a court-appointed official who liquidates the debtor’s property and determines whether a bankruptcy filing involves fraudulent transfers of property, perjury or is an abuse of the bankruptcy system.

A little more than a year before Joseph Sullivan filed for bankruptcy, he formed Hinsdale Real Estate LLC with Carl B. Thomas of Spofford-based Thomas Construction Corp. and sold the track’s 102 acres and buildings to the holding company for $3.3 million.

Joseph Sullivan remains in the middle of negotiations to sell 22 acres of land that now belongs to the holding company to Wal-Mart for $2.1 million.

Under state law, any fraudulent transfer involving a debtor can be undone if it occurred less than four years prior to the bankruptcy filing.

Federal bankruptcy law was changed in 2006 to extend the look-back period from a year to two years.

As for the loan, Joseph Sullivan has declined to say where that money went.

“Right now all I have is the promissory note he gave to the company. We’re going to be trying to unwind how that came to be,” Askenaizer said in a March interview. He could not be reached for comment this week.

In April, Askenaizer held an auction at the defunct track’s headquarters, selling ATM machines, computers, televisions, trucks, humidors, art, kitchen equipment, office equipment, furniture, tools, books and cash counters to the highest bidders.

Sixteen, 25-inch televisions sold for $30. An executive desk and leather chair went for $10. A 1979 Ford truck with a water tank was won with an $800 bid. Ten security cameras sold for $212. An ATM machine fetched $500. Someone paid $25 for a 20-inch tall bust of Elvis Presley.

At the end of the day, the auction netted $41,710 after auction-related expenses.

The earnings will be used to repay the track’s $1.75 million debt to the bettors and an array of other creditors who did business with the track, such as telephone companies, food vendors and various greyhound tracks across the country.

John Sullivan, the bankruptcy attorney, has said bettors should expect to receive a fraction of what they’re owed — he estimated 10 to 25 cents on the dollar — if they’re ever repaid.

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Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: August 08, 2009

The Winchester man on trial for stabbing a Keene State College student during a fraternity party last year was convicted on all counts today.

Jurors convicted Gary Duquette of four counts of first-degree assault after deliberating for about five hours over two days. Each count of first-degree assault carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The jury began deliberating Thursday at about 1 p.m., and was sent home by Cheshire County Superior Court Judge Philip P. Mangones shortly before 4:30 p.m. after they had not reached a verdict. They resumed deliberations today at 9 a.m. and reached a verdict less than 45 minutes later.

Duquette stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read and as the jury was polled, each saying they believed Duquette was guilty on all counts.

Duquette’s younger sister cried when the verdict came. His mother told him that she loved him, as a bailiff led him from the courtroom in handcuffs. His uncle was also in the courtroom. They all declined comment.

Duquette had been on house arrest for about a year prior to the trial because his family was able to post $10,000 bail. Judge Mangones revoked Duquette’s bail after he was convicted today and he was sent to the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland.

He will be sentenced after a pre-sentencing investigation, which will include an examination of his criminal history. His adult record stretches back seven years and includes convictions for shoplifting, carrying or selling a weapon, drug possession, simple assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John S. Webb.

Webb and Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre prosecuted Duquette. They declined comment after the trial, as did Duquette’s attorney, Nathan R. Lynch of Walpole.

The stabbing victim, Justin Ranucci, and his family also declined comment.

Duquette, then 24, was accused of stabbing Ranucci, then 19, in the back, chest and leg outside the Alpha Pi Tau fraternity house at 29 Coolidge St. the night of July 22, 2008. Ranucci’s lung and spleen were punctured during the stabbing.

Webb told jurors that Duquette and Ranucci faced off head-to-head, which meant Ranucci could clearly identify his attacker, while Lynch argued that someone else stabbed Ranucci during a drunken melee. Ranucci also testified that he was certain Duquette stabbed him. Duquette did not testify during the trial.

After the verdict, a juror, who wished to remain anonymous, said she believed the evidence presented by the prosecution and defense was lacking. She said jurors relied heavily on witness testimony.

“We had a lot of debate,” she said. “It was a very difficult case.”

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Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: August 06, 2009

The Keene State College student who was knifed at a fraternity party last year described the attack Wednesday during the first day of trial for the Winchester man accused in the stabbing.

Justin Ranucci took the stand in Cheshire County Superior Court and testified he is certain Gary Duquette stabbed him outside the Alpha Pi Tau fraternity house at 29 Coolidge St. the night of July 22, 2008. He pointed across the courtroom at Duquette, who wore a dark suit, and identified him as his attacker.

Duquette is charged with four counts of first-degree assault alleging he stabbed Ranucci at least twice in the back and once in the chest and leg. First-degree assault carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

The jury of nine women and five men, which includes two alternates, visited the house where the stabbing occurred before they heard opening statements from Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John S. Webb and defense attorney Nathan R. Lynch of Walpole. Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre is also prosecuting Duquette.

While Webb told jurors that Ranucci, then 19, and Duquette, then 24, faced off head-to-head, Lynch said they were involved in a drunken brawl reminiscent of a Wild West bar fight. He suggested that someone else stabbed Ranucci during the melee.

“It should be clear by the end of the trial that the state has no idea who stabbed Justin Ranucci,” Lynch said.

The only state witness who can identify Duquette as the stabber is Ranucci, despite the number of potential witnesses who attended the party, Lynch said. He also said Ranucci was drinking heavily and smoking marijuana the night of the fight.

Partygoer Brooke L. McLain testified that the fight broke out inside the fraternity house between members of the fraternity and a group of people she’d never met. Then the fight spilled out the front door and into the street before the stabbing.

“They all rushed out the front door and started beating each other,” she said.

After seeing a fraternity brother punched in the face and laid out on a car, McLain said she decided to leave the party. She was gone during the stabbing.

Between 20 and 25 people ended up fighting in the street, Ranucci said.

He said he was jumped when he tried to help a friend who was being kicked and punched by at least four people. He said he eventually escaped that beating and was walking back toward the fraternity house when Duquette stepped in front of him and got in his face.

A man who was hanging out with Duquette earlier during the party — Ranucci said he had seen Duquette breaking beer bottles over the man’s head — yelled for Duquette to “Grab the knuckles!” and “Stab him! Stab him!” Ranucci said.

Ranucci said he turned toward the man, who was not named in court, and when he looked back toward Duquette the stabbing began.

“I’ve been punched plenty of times in the past. I know what that feels like,” he said. “When he was throwing the blows and punches it felt different. It was more internal. It felt hot. It felt like it went through me.”

Ranucci’s friend Justin Bronner, then 22, was also stabbed when he tried to help Ranucci, police said. But no one has been charged with stabbing Bronner, who suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from the hospital hours after the attack.

Ranucci spent eight days in the hospital and underwent emergency surgery after the stabbing.

“I have a giant scar down my stomach now because they had to cut me open and go through my intestines to make sure anything else wasn’t hit,” he said.

A digital photograph taken during the party and later posted on a social networking Web site helped lead police to Duquette, Webb said. In the photo, Duquette is wearing a baseball cap, backward and crooked, and the man who Ranucci said instigated the stabbing is leaning toward the camera and sticking out his tongue.

McLain testified that she e-mailed the photo to Keene police detective Donald Lundin. Ranucci also received an e-mail of the photo from a friend, and said he felt sick when he first saw it and recognized Duquette as his attacker.

“I had to put it away,” he said. “I couldn’t look at it.”

Lundin later showed Ranucci a photo lineup and Ranucci pointed out Duquette. Lynch is arguing that the lineup was tainted because Ranucci had already seen a photo of Duquette.

Lynch said Ranucci wants someone to pay for the stabbing, and he and his other college friends dislike “townies,” or locals.

“This case is really going to come down to the credibility of witnesses,” he said. “You’ll have to ask yourself if there’s any motive or bias.”

The trial, which is scheduled for three days, continues today.

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