By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: September 04, 2009
CONCORD — The family of a Massachusetts woman who was murdered nearly 25 years ago faced her killer for the first time Thursday during an emotional parole hearing.
They asked Mark P. Gorham, 49, why he bludgeoned and strangled Linda Smith after he was seen leaving a Troy dance hall with her Nov. 10, 1984. Hunters found Smith’s scorched body the next morning inside a smoldering stolen pickup truck parked on a logging trail in Richmond.
Gorham, who was living in Troy and working at a local sawmill, met Smith, 40, of Gardner, Mass., the night of the murder.
“What did she do that made you so mad, so nutty?” asked Sandra Higgins, one of Smith’s three sisters who attended the hearing. She clutched a photo of Smith as she confronted Gorham.
“Nothing,” Gorham replied.
“Why?” Higgins asked again.
“I don’t have an excuse for what I did that night,” Gorham said, his voice trailing off. He wore a gray suit and a deadpan expression as he sat next to his therapist during the hearing.
Gorham was arrested six days after Smith’s body was discovered. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sent to prison for 25 to 50 years.
After hearing tearful pleas from Smith’s family to keep Gorham behind bars, the parole board decided to let him stay at a halfway house until May 2010 and review his case again.
If Gorham’s parole was granted Thursday, he would have been eligible for release Nov. 5, Smith’s birthday.
The parole board is an independent agency comprised of seven members who report to Gov. John H. Lynch. The board members who handled Gorham’s case are Robert E. Hamel, Megan C. DeVorsey and Pierre J. Morin.
Gorham told the trio that he stayed out of trouble in prison, but his disciplinary record, which was available to the parole board, told a different story, said N.H. Attorney General’s Office victim-witness advocate Jennifer L. Hunt.
“His record is horrific,” she said during the hearing.
Between 1985 and 1988, Gorham was disciplined 37 times for various infractions, such as being disruptive and provoking or threatening other inmates or guards, Hunt said.
Because of his behavioral problems, he was transferred from New Hampshire to a prison in Massachusetts before being sent to federal prison and then to a Florida prison, Hunt said. He was returned to the Granite State in 1995, she said.
Gorham said he became a new man during his experiences in lockup, which included substance abuse counseling and religious classes.
“I’m a born-again Christian,” he said. “I’m not the same person I was 25 years ago. I’m not the same man.”
Gorham’s therapist, Donna Moore, agreed that Gorham had changed for the better. She’s had 17 sessions with Gorham since April at the halfway house on the prison grounds where he resides. She said he has a “spiritual foundation” and “deep remorse.”
“I think he’s ready to be a contributing member of society,” she said.
Gorham has found work as a welder since he was allowed to leave prison for the halfway house and has had no disciplinary problems. He told the parole board he was an angry young man when he killed Smith, and apologized for the slaying.
“I know my apology doesn’t help you,” he said to Smith’s family, “but I hope someday it does.”
Smith’s family rejected Gorham’s apology and his story of rehabilitation. They said they wanted him to be executed, or at least stay in prison for the rest of his life.
“I feel he’ll do it again. What would you tell the next victim’s family?” Smith’s sister, Brenda Fontaine, told the parole board before Gorham entered the room. “It’s a scary thought …”
One of Smith’s two daughters who attended the hearing, Kelly Bennett, said she believed Gorham called her home the night of the murder and the next day. She said he made derogatory sexual comments during the calls.
“It was the same voice I heard while I was in court,” she said, also while Gorham was not in the room. “I’m scared. I don’t want him to know who I am.”
Smith’s youngest daughter, Tammy Bowler, faced Gorham during the hearing and said she is haunted by her mother’s violent end.
“I go to bed and every night I think about what my mother’s last words were,” she said, choking back tears. “I just remember that night, that morning when my mother didn’t come home.”
When the parole board announced its decision, Smith’s sister, Donna Morse, became enraged and was asked to leave the room.
“This decision was made even before we came in and spoke,” she screamed. She also cursed at Gorham as she made her way toward the exit.
After the hearing, Gorham went to lunch with his counselor from the halfway house, Stephen Nelson, and his brother, Shane, who attended the hearing but did not speak.
Smith’s family members, who live scattered throughout New England, also went to a restaurant. They planned to reminisce about Smith’s life.