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Archive for the ‘COURTS’ Category

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: December 11, 2009

A Cheshire County Superior Court judge has requested more time to decide the fate of a 19-year-old facing up to 21 years in prison for a slew of crimes.

Adam M. Laramie was slated to be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty in August to conspiracy to commit armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, robbery, theft by deception, theft and receiving stolen property.

Laramie tried to rob the Beaver Street Market and the Connecticut River Bank in Keene on Dec. 15, 2008. He also duped an acquaintance into cashing a forged check, stole a co-worker’s purse and had a laptop that was purchased with a credit card from the purse.

Laramie was living in Swanzey when he was arrested. He has been locked up at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland for the past year, awaiting an end to his case.

Judge John P. Arnold was expected to send Laramie to N.H. State Prison at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing.

Instead, Arnold asked Laramie’s court-appointed attorney, Adam P. Kossayda of Keene, to delve deeper into the young man’s background and present his findings in about a month.

Kossayda replaced Laramie’s original attorney, Michael C. Shklar of Newport, after Laramie accused Shklar of pressuring him to accept a plea deal. Shklar denied the allegation.

In a letter to The Sentinel in late November, Laramie wrote that he wanted to back out of the plea bargain he accepted while Shklar was representing him, but the court has denied his requests.

Arnold announced his decision to continue the sentencing hearing after lengthy discussions in his chambers with Kossayda and Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly. He said Laramie’s case raised “interesting issues.”

O’Reilly had asked Arnold to send Laramie to prison for four to 21 years, followed by a suspended prison sentence of seven to 14 years.

The suspended sentence would hang over Laramie’s head for 15 years after his release from prison. The sentence could be imposed if he was caught breaking the law during that time.

O’Reilly said in court that she would have asked for a lengthier prison sentence if Laramie were older.

“We have some very serious crimes here,” she said.

Kossayda argued during the hearing for six months to be shaved off the minimum end of the proposed prison sentence. He agreed to the remaining terms of the plea negotiation.

“He (Laramie) stands here pleading with you to have those six months of his life,” Kossayda told Arnold. “He’s owned up to (the crimes) by pleading guilty. He’s asking for some sort of leniency here.”

Saying that he was not offering excuses or justification for the crimes, but only some sort of explanation, Kossayda told Arnold about Laramie’s tumultuous childhood:

Laramie and his five siblings were raised in hotel rooms and homeless shelters as their mother struggled to make ends meet. When he was 7, Laramie was sexually assaulted. He was also physically abused.

That Laramie has a juvenile criminal record, which O’Reilly mentioned in court, is no surprise, given his upbringing, Kossayda said.

The string of crimes that led Laramie to the courtroom Thursday began soon after he was introduced to heroin on his 18th birthday in September 2008, Kossayda said.

Soon, Laramie had trouble staying employed and needed money to feed his addiction, he said.

Three months after he tried heroin, Laramie and three accomplices called in a bomb threat to Keene State College to create a diversion so they could rob the Connecticut River Bank, according to O’Reilly.

After making the bomb threat, the foursome approached the bank, some of them carrying weapons and masks, but abandoned the plan when a police cruiser rolled by them.

Later that day, Laramie entered the Beaver Street Market wearing a mask. He displayed a gun and demanded all the money in the store’s cash register. But the clerk didn’t take Laramie seriously — he thought the gun was a fake.

“Then I just played dumb, acted like I couldn’t open the register,” the clerk said in an interview after the incident.

“Finally he just got frustrated and left the store.”

Four police detectives who played a role in the investigation that led to Laramie’s arrest, or who were interested in the case, attended the hearing, as did Laramie’s father, stepmother and girlfriend.

Laramie glanced back toward his supporters before a bailiff led him from the courtroom. Arnold warned him to stay out of trouble in jail as he left.

“The issue now is: What’s the appropriate sentence?” Kossayda said after the hearing. “I’m going to figure out why we’re here and hopefully provide the court with enough information to make an appropriate sentence.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: lawNovember 11, 2009

CONCORD — Testimony ended Tuesday in the case of a Keene lawyer accused of lying to his paraplegic client and forcing her family to accept an insurance settlement so he could collect a large payment.

A hearing panel for the N.H. Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office in Concord will decide whether Timothy A. O’Meara violated any rules of conduct in his dealings with the family of a Hampton woman whose spinal cord was severed in a May 2005 crash.

If the panel determines O’Meara violated any rules, it will decide what penalty he should face and make a recommendation to the Professional Conduct Committee. The panel and committee are both composed of lawyers and non-lawyers. Possible penalties O’Meara could face include reprimand, public censure, suspension or disbarment.

During the panel hearings, which began in October, disciplinary counsel Landya B. McCafferty presented the evidence against O’Meara, who was defended by Concord attorney Michael R. Callahan.

The family of Anita Conant hired O’Meara about a week after the crash that left her confined to a specialized wheelchair. Conant was attending her father’s funeral in Pennsylvania when a paving company’s dump truck slammed into the back of her car at about 55 mph while she was stopped at a red light.

The Conant family received $500,000 from the paving company, Lyons & Hohl Paving Inc., and $11 million from its insurer, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies. O’Meara wanted to collect at least $2 million in legal fees from the settlement, but the Conants contested his payment and a judge awarded him $1.6 million — the largest payment of his law career.

The settlement will not cover Conant’s daily medical expenses — it’s expected to cost more than $23 million to care for her during her lifetime, according to a certified life-care planner O’Meara hired while suing the paving company and its insurer.

O’Meara went after the $11.5 million settlement despite the life-care planner’s estimate for Conant so he could get paid quickly, McCafferty said.

Conant was positioned directly across the room from O’Meara during Tuesday’s hearing, watching him as he testified for about five hours, her ventilator unleashing an air-sucking whistle with each breath she took. Her husband, James, and their two sons, Sean and Todd, and daughter, Ashley, also attended the hearing.

The Conants say O’Meara settled their case without their authorization and pressured them to agree to pay him $2 million in legal fees at the last minute during a mediation hearing in Philadelphia. They also say he threatened to sue them for a third of any settlement they received and lied during testimony about his handling of the case after they contested his fees.

O’Meara contends that he had the authority to request an offer from the paving company, but not accept it. He says he never finalized the offer, which the Conants initially rejected but later accepted after hiring a new attorney. The Conants said they felt they had no other choice but to take the offer because of O’Meara’s dealings.

As for threatening to sue the Conants, O’Meara said he only mentioned during an emotionally charged meeting at their house months before the case was settled that litigation would be an option if they fired him. He denied making any threats.

The contract the Conants signed with O’Meara gave them the right to fire him at any time and pay him and other employees at his firm who worked on their case $275 per hour, McCafferty said.

But no one at O’Meara’s firm kept track of the hours that went into the Conants’ case, and O’Meara never told the Conants they could easily fire him because he knew he’d have trouble collecting any fees, McCafferty said.

O’Meara is also accused of backdating a letter to Robert Davis, an attorney for The Cincinnati Insurance Companies.

The letter notified Davis that the Conants were unwilling to accept the $11 million insurance settlement. It was written the same day Davis accepted O’Meara’s offer to settle the case for that amount, but dated four days earlier, McCafferty said.

O’Meara said the erroneous date on the letter was an innocent mistake.

This is not the first time O’Meara has been accused of changing the date on an official document, McCafferty said during Tuesday’s hearing.

In 2003, he was disciplined for lying to a judge about having the wrong date on a document he filed with the court while representing himself in a divorce and child custody case.

The conduct committee publicly censured O’Meara rather than suspending or disbarring him because he’d maintained a clean disciplinary record since joining the state bar in 1993.

While attending law school at Franklin Pierce University, O’Meara was suspended for a semester for cheating on a group project. He said he was the first person in his group to admit to cheating because he felt guilty.

The hearing panel is expected to decide by mid-December whether O’Meara violated any rules while representing the Conants.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: November 10, 2009
Constance and Guido Boldini

Constance and Guido Boldini

In a tragic twist, the intended victim of a foiled murder-for-hire plot hatched by a Hancock mother and son has died.

Michelle L. Hudon, 37, lost her battle with cancer Sept. 3, according to an obituary. Her ex-boyfriend Guido Boldini and his mother, Constance, were in N.H. State Prison when Hudon died. A year earlier, they were meeting with an undercover officer posing as a hit man, arranging to have Hudon killed.

Guido Boldini, 43, wanted Hudon dead because they were involved in a custody battle over their 4-year-old boy, according to testimony during his sentencing hearing in April.

Constance Boldini, 76, solicited the hit man — she walked into Gino’s Bar & Grill on Court Street in Keene and told the owner, Gino C. Mola, that she “understood he was a man who could get things done,” Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said during her sentencing hearing in May.

Mola contacted Keene police and agreed to let them record his phone conversations with the Boldinis and set up surveillance at his business. The police had an undercover officer act as a hit man and meet with the Boldinis. They also warned Hudon about the plot.

Hudon told police and prosecutors she was leaving Guido Boldini because he was “controlling” and “domineering,” Heed said. Guido Boldini also easily manipulated Constance Boldini, Heed said.

While sitting inside a vehicle parked outside Gino’s and wired with audio and video surveillance, the Boldinis hashed out a deal with the fake hit man: They would pay him $10,000 to kill Hudon and give him what they had in their pockets, $100, as a down payment, according to Heed.

The Boldinis were arrested when they stepped out of the vehicle.

Guido Boldini pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation to commit murder in April and was sentenced to eight to 20 years in N.H. State Prison. Constance Boldini pleaded guilty to the same charge in May and was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

Hudon’s parents, Richard and Arlene, of Merrimack, are fighting for custody of the child she had with Guido Boldini and declined comment until the dispute is resolved.

Hudon also had two older sons, Bryan and Gregory, who are living in Merrimack, according to the obituary.

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Con Man Pleads Guilty

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel:  November 07, 2009

The charismatic convicted felon who conned a pair of Chesterfield business owners while posing as a U.S. marshal was sent to prison Thursday.

Wearing a charcoal blazer and blue jeans, a shackled John P. Baldasaro, 46, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to two felony-level counts of theft by deception. He’d vowed months earlier to take the case to trial and represent himself.

Judge John P. Arnold accepted the deal Baldasaro and his attorney, Michael D. Hulser of Acworth, reached with prosecutors and handed down two concurrent sentences of six to 12 years in N.H. State Prison.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery.

If Baldasaro had gone to trial and was convicted on all five counts, he could have faced 60 years in prison, Hulser said after the hearing.

Hulser said he has also negotiated a plea deal for Baldasaro in Maine, where he is accused of stealing a vehicle from a dealership and duping a family out of $7,000 in a bogus investment scheme.

The Maine negotiation calls for a shorter sentence than the N.H. State Prison sentence and will be served concurrently with the New Hampshire sentence, he said.

Meanwhile, Baldasaro faces a federal parole violation charge in Vermont that could keep him in prison for another 12 years. By pleading guilty to the theft charges, Baldasaro effectively admitted to violating parole.

“The Vermont Parole Board will not say what they’re going to do,” Hulser said.

The parole violation stems from a conviction for kidnapping and robbery in White River Junction, Vt. Baldasaro spent 12 years in federal prison, where he married his wife, Vanessa, who works at a law firm in Boston. He was released in September 2008.

Hulser said he hasn’t heard from authorities in Massachusetts, where Baldasaro is accused of impersonating a federal agent and robbing a man at gunpoint. He also hasn’t received word from the federal authorities who are building an impersonation case against Baldasaro.

In Chesterfield, Baldasaro conned Fayyaz Awan, owner of Khyber Convenience Store, and Paul Saba, owner of Big Deal, out of more than $10,860 on May 11, according to court documents.

Baldasaro flashed what appeared to be a holstered gun and U.S. Marshals badge, told Awan and Saba he was investigating a counterfeit cash operation, and took money from both stores before emptying Awan’s bank account, prosecutors said.

Baldasaro told Awan and Saba the money he took was counterfeit, police said. He acted like he was scanning the bills with a laptop computer to determine whether they were legitimate, Saba said in an interview shortly after the incident.

Chesterfield police spent dozens of hours investigating the scheme alongside the U.S. Marshals Office, and Chief Lester C. Fairbanks said it was gratifying to see the case come full circle.

“It’s just nice to see everything fall into place,” he said. “None of us would have gotten here without the U.S. Marshals. That was just a huge stroke of luck that he picked the wrong agency to mess with.”

During the plea and sentencing hearing, Baldasaro spoke only to answer the judge or confer with Hulser. But he was outspoken during a jailhouse interview with The Sentinel in June, when he said he wanted to represent himself during trial and take on Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

“John speaks spontaneously very often,” Hulser said outside the courtroom. “I think he would like to retract those statements upon reflection.”

Baldasaro also made “very incriminating” statements to detectives after he was arrested at a Manhattan hotel several days after the Chesterfield incident, Hulser said.

Hulser said he would have tried to prevent jurors from hearing those statements if he was unable to negotiate a plea deal with Heed and Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre.

If the case had gone to trial, Hulser planned to argue that Awan and Saba were acquainted with Baldasaro before he stole from them. He said they owed Baldasaro money, but would not disclose the nature of the debt.

Heed dismissed Hulser’s theory as “baseless” and said Awan and Saba were on board with the plea negotiation, which saved taxpayers the expense of a trial.

“We also don’t want New Hampshire taxpayers to pay for his whole incarceration,” he said. “He has a lot of sentences he can serve” in other states.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: November 03, 2009

A Vermont man has filed a right-to-know lawsuit against the city of Keene that could affect the way public records requests are answered across the state.

Wallace S. Nolen of Barre, Vt., presented his case Monday in Cheshire County Superior Court. He wants an electronic document containing the names, titles, salaries, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and work locations of every city employee.

The city has already provided paperwork containing that information to Nolen, with the exception of work locations for each employee, because no such record exists and the city is not required to create one, according to City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins.

The city was not even required by state law to comply with Nolen’s request because he is not a New Hampshire resident, Mullins said.

He said the city has already gone “above and beyond” by giving Nolen paperwork with the employee information he requested, and should not be required to provide it again in electronic form, he said.

But Nolen said he doesn’t want paperwork. He wants the information to be provided on a CD or e-mailed to him so he can easily plug it into a massive database he’s building. The database contains employee information from tens of thousands of municipalities in 30 states, including much of New England, he said.

Nolen is building the database in preparation for a class-action lawsuit aimed at overhauling unclaimed property laws. He wants banks and state treasurers to be more diligent in helping people claim lost assets.

Nolen is gathering the employee information because he says states consistently fail to notify not only residents but their own employees of unclaimed property to which they are entitled.

Nolen said he was spurred to action after being deprived of funds in his deceased father’s bank account because of flaws in the laws.

Because the city of Keene has refused to provide employee information electronically, Nolen said he must manually enter the information into his database, which will take too much time.

Nolen also wants the city to be required to answer right-to-know requests sent by e-mail.

The city typically requires requests to be submitted in writing and dropped off at the City Clerk’s office or mailed.

Communicating via e-mail will streamline the process, make it more environmentally friendly and save the city money in printing and paper costs, Nolen argued.

“In today’s day and age, things should be sent electronically,” he said. “Are you telling me that if I want something from Los Angeles, I have to drive all the way to Los Angeles?”

The city should not be forced to answer right-to-know requests via e-mail, Mullins said. The clerk’s office, which handles the requests, would become inundated with frivolous public records demands and unable to function, he said.

“If we have to do that, the city is going to be placed in a very difficult situation,” he said. “We could be receiving potentially thousands of e-mails.”

The N.H. Supreme Court has never addressed the transmittal of information tied to a public records request, according to Mullins.

“I haven’t seen a case on it,” he said, “and I’ve definitely been looking.”

In a separate right-to-know issue, Nolen has requested any evidence in the case of David Ridley, an activist and videographer from Grafton. Ridley was arrested in March at Keene District Court when he refused to turn off his camera in the court’s lobby.

The Keene Police Department initially refused Nolen’s request, saying the Ridley case was an open investigation and therefore exempt from public record.

But after contacting Mullins, the department acknowledged that certain information could be released.

Mullins said he provided Nolen with paperwork containing basic details in Ridley’s arrest, but Nolen demanded any audio or video evidence the authorities may have from the courthouse incident. That evidence does not exist, Mullins said.

Judge John P. Arnold is reviewing both prongs of Nolen’s right-to-know lawsuit. He is expected to render a decision in a matter of weeks.

During the hearing, Mullins accused Nolen of verbally abusing city employees over the course of his right-to-know requests — the first was filed in March. He said Nolen’s lawsuit is baseless and constitutes harassment.

If Arnold determines the lawsuit is harassment, he could order Nolen to pay the city for legal fees it incurred in fighting the suit.

Nolen is also seeking compensation for legal fees. He has accused city employees of stonewalling him.

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The Dark Side of the Court System

gavelBy PHILLIP BANTZ

The Keene Sentinel: February 23, 2008

Life-altering decisions are often made by lawyers haggling for justice behind closed doors. In nearly all criminal cases, plea deals are negotiated and defendants admit guilt in exchange for lighter sentences.

Prosecutors are bound by state law to work with defense attorneys and make an attempt to reach a resolution before trial.

And while victims and their families may voice their opinions to prosecutors and judges, they ultimately have no say in the process.

Some end up feeling betrayed by a cold legal machine that allows justice to slip through their fingers.

This is a glimpse of the lesser-known side of the business of law.

***

“I felt lost. It was like I was in a different country. We obviously had no say in the matter,” James P. McCarthy Sr. said of his experience with Cheshire County’s court system.

“My kid was killed in a car accident,” he said, “and the guy who killed him only got a slap on the wrist.”

His 21-year-old son, James P. McCarthy Jr., known to friends and family as “Jimmy,” was riding in Seth R. Olson’s convertible in September 2006 when the car hit a sharp turn in Jaffrey and flipped.

McCarthy was thrown head-first into a pole. His young daughter was left fatherless.

Authorities said Olson had been speeding and his recklessness caused the crash.

Olson and his family contend it was a tragic and unintentional accident.

“My brother didn’t mean for this to happen. That night in that car, it could have been anybody. It just happened,” Meghan A. Olson, 19, said. “I saw my brother that night. I’ve never seen him more destroyed in my entire life. … He would have taken Jimmy’s place if he had the chance.”

Seth Olson declined to be interviewed for this story.

He was initially charged with negligent homicide, reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, vehicular assault and driving with a suspended license.

After a year of court proceedings, prosecutors and Olson’s public defender negotiated a plea deal.

The deal was influenced by tire skid marks and other evidence at the scene that would have weakened the chances of securing a conviction during a jury trial, according to Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

“A plea deal is usually a good thing,” Heed said. “It may not be the best sentence, but it’s still a guilty plea. It’s not an acquittal.”

The deal shocked the McCarthys, who said they learned about Olson’s agreement after it was finalized.

Both sides had agreed on a deal that would send Olson to the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland for six months on one misdemeanor charge of vehicular assault.

All other charges against him would be dropped.

“I almost threw up on the table. I left the county attorney’s office crying,” said McCarthy’s mother, Gail A. McCarthy. “I never expected Seth Olson to spend the rest of his life in jail, but his dangerous driving caused Jimmy’s death. I still haven’t gotten over the anger of it and I don’t feel that Jimmy got justice.”

“My jaw just dropped. We didn’t have any say in it,” said James McCarthy Sr., who was sitting beside his wife in the county attorney’s office when they learned of Olson’s plea deal.

“They shoved the plea down our throats. Six months. I still can’t believe it.”

After he’d served less than four months of his sentence, which began in mid-October, the jail’s disciplinary board determined Olson was ready for release.

The decision was based on his good behavior, work history and minimal criminal record, said Richard N. Van Wickler, the jail superintendent.

“The prosecutors left the decision up to us,” Van Wickler said. “We made the best decision we could at the time. Unfortunately, we’re not always right.”

Olson was arrested again Feb. 7 while on work release. He’d submitted a urinalysis test to the jail that tested positive for marijuana, according to Van Wickler.

He spent another 10 days in jail, serving out the remainder of his minimum sentence, and was released.

Olson’s obligation to the jail’s disciplinary board and the court system is finished. The plea deal did not require him to serve probation.

The McCarthys recently asked Mothers Against Drunk Driving and state representatives to investigate their son’s death and the way it was handled by the courts.

“I want people to know that you don’t plea bargain a beautiful life like Jimmy’s,” said McCarthy’s grandfather, Philip J. McCarthy. “This is a miscarriage of justice as far as my family’s concerned.”
***
Lawyers are not immune to the flammable mix of emotions in criminal cases involving death or life-altering victimization.

They may feel passionately about a defendant’s guilt or innocence, but that does not sway the law.

“Of course it can be hard. We may not be happy with the sentence in some cases. We just can’t make everybody happy,” said Heed, the county attorney. “We’re not the attorneys for the victims or the police. We’re the attorneys for the law.”

Prosecutors often deal with grief-stricken families and scarred victims. These are people whose lives have been devastated, and they’re desperate for some sort of justice.

They are not invited into the closed-door legal meetings. They will never see the inner workings of the courts.

But while prosecutors are not required to confer with victims and their families, they still usually try to keep them in the loop.

“You don’t intentionally try to create a poor relationship,” Heed said. “We fight as hard as we can on every case. We also try to develop a rapport with the victims. We try to minimize their pain and confusion.”

The McCarthys said they consistently received updates in their son’s case, and applauded a court-appointed advocate who helped them through the experience.

“We were involved in the process and Lyndi Horn, our victim advocate, was wonderful,” James McCarthy Sr. said. “We just had no say. … We’re riled up at Peter Heed for plea bargaining.”
***
Forget the courtroom dramas on television in which a suspect is arrested, convicted and justice is served in an hour, minus commercial breaks.

The real legal system is a high-stakes game of strategy, and it can be incredibly tedious – imagine a chess game that plays out for years.

And a trial can be a costly gamble. Lawyers never know what a jury will do, which is why most cases are resolved with a plea bargain.

“At least 95 percent of all cases are settled by plea negotiations,” Keene defense lawyer Paul G. Schweizer said. “Plea bargains are absolutely essential to the judicial system.”

Without plea deals, the courts, jails and prisons would become clogged with defendants and inmates.

“As a practical matter, we would have to build 10 new courthouses in Keene if we took everyone to trial,” he said. “We would have to hire five times as many police officers and prosecutors. The judicial system would come to a screeching halt.”

A plea negotiation often hinges on the defense’s adeptness in arguing for a judge to exclude certain pieces of evidence from a case, or the prosecution’s ability to keep that evidence in court.

The defendant’s age, criminal history, willingness to accept responsibility and the extent of the damage he caused are also significant factors in plea negotiations.

In the end, though, it’s the judge who decides whether to accept or deny a plea deal.

If the case against a defendant is strong, he may agree to an open plea deal and essentially throw himself on the mercy of the court in hopes of leniency.

A defendant may also be offered a capped plea deal, which allows him to withdraw his admission of guilt if a judge doesn’t accept the sentence recommendation.

No matter the type of plea deal, people connected to both sides of the case are often left feeling slighted, Schweizer said.

“Plea bargaining is a negotiation where everybody walks away with a bad taste in their mouth, having not gotten what they wanted,” he said. “If one side gets everything they wanted, that’s not a compromise, it’s not a plea negotiation.”
***
Lost evidence and a pair of traumatized victims recently led to a plea deal for a 31-year-old Marlborough man.

Thomas L. Pickford pleaded guilty to abusing two underage girls for three years and was sentenced to one year in jail.

He could have been sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison if he’d been taken to trial and convicted on the two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault that he originally faced.

He pleaded instead to lesser charges of second-degree assault and indecent exposure with lewdness.

The prosecution’s case had been dealt a blow when Cheshire County Judge Brian T. Tucker agreed with the defense’s argument that Pickford’s statements to police about the abuse were made under duress and not admissible in court.

Heed called Pickford’s interviews with police “crucial” to prosecuting the case.

“There’s a huge difference between what we know or think we know,” he said, “and what we can prove in court.”

Further weakening the prosecution’s case was that the victims, now 11 and 13, did not want to be dragged through a trial.

“Our heart goes out to these victims,” Heed said. “These cases often rely on testimony from people that have gone through a difficult situation. Some of the hardest cases are sexual assault.”

Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Christopher D. McLaughlin, who worked for about 12 years defending the accused before becoming a prosecutor, said the courtroom can be a scary place for victimized adults and downright terrifying for abused children.

“Sometimes you’re asking a 6-year-old child to face a dozen strangers and talk about being abused in front of the person who did that to them,” McLaughlin said. “Calling it an intimidating atmosphere would be an understatement.”
***
A few weeks after Pickford was sentenced, a distraught Vermont woman contacted The Sentinel.

The woman said she’d just learned that her ex-boyfriend was being offered a plea deal.

He had been arrested in Hinsdale last year and charged with sexually assaulting their daughter.

Authorities said the girl was first abused when she was 7 years old, and that a second incident occurred when she was 11.

Identities are being withheld because it is The Sentinel’s policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

As part of the plea deal, court records show the man could receive a six-month jail sentence on one count of simple assault.

He will not have to register as a sexual offender.

“I was told there wasn’t enough evidence. That’s how the county attorney felt,” the victim’s mother said. “It’s just overwhelming and I’m really, really frustrated with the system.”

The woman said her daughter had been ready to testify during the trial.

Before plea negotiations, the girl’s alleged attacker was facing two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault.

Hinsdale police Sgt. Todd Faulkner spent more than a year investigating the case.

“It’s out of our hands when it goes to the county attorney. … Most of the time a sexual assault case is one person’s word against another’s, which makes it difficult to prove in front of a jury,” he said. “I understand how upset (the victim and her mother) are.”

A Cheshire County judge will decide whether to accept or deny the man’s plea deal during a hearing this week.

“My main concern is that he’ll be out of jail in four months and will try to fight me for custody and visitation rights,” the victim’s mother said. “My kids are scared. They don’t know what he’ll do to them.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: September 08, 2009

The armed teenager who was arrested while topless in downtown Keene did not break the law, according to police prosecutors.

Cassidy Nicosia, 18, of Manchester no longer faces a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure and lewdness.

Nicosia was arrested Aug. 23 after police received complaint calls about a topless teenager standing near the Main-Marlboro-Winchester streets roundabout with a handgun holstered on her hip.

State law does not require residents to have permits to openly carry guns, and she was not charged with any firearm-related crimes.

Last week, police prosecutors D. Chris McLaughlin and Eliezer Rivera decided to drop the charge of indecent exposure and lewdness against Nicosia. The charge was dropped because walking down the street topless does not qualify as a crime under state law, Keene police Lt. Jay U. Duguay said.

The law states that a person commits indecent exposure and lewdness if he or she fornicates, exposes genitals or performs any other “act of gross lewdness … likely to cause affront or alarm” in public.

“She wasn’t fornicating or exposing genitals — breasts aren’t genitals,” Duguay said. “No one who complained about it said that it was gross lewdness.”

While towns and cities may enact ordinances that prohibit women from going topless in public, Keene has no such ordinance, Duguay said.

“The officer (who arrested Nicosia) did what he thought was right at the time,” he said, “but sometimes you take a second look at these things and realize the law is not really worded the way you thought it was.”

Two other factors played a role in the police prosecutors’ decision to drop the charge against Nicosia, according to Duguay.

They wanted to keep the N.H. Supreme Court from having a chance to weigh in on the law, which could have happened if Nicosia was convicted and appealed, Duguay said. If asked to examine the state law dealing with indecent exposure and lewdness, the court might find that the language in the statute is too broad and then drop the entire statute, he said.

Also, Nicosia went topless to make a statement about equality, which could be viewed as a form of expression or free speech that is protected under the First Amendment, Duguay said.

“I chose to do it because … one of the most important issues to me is equality,” Nicosia said while being videotaped before her arrest. “Men can walk down the street … and, you know, not get harassed at all but yet somehow this is dirty.”

Nicosia is a member of the Free State Project, an effort to convince 20,000 people to move to the Life Free or Die state and participate in various forms of activism and run for local and state office.

Attempts to reach Nicosia before press time were unsuccessful.

Ian “Freeman” Bernard, a talk radio host and outspoken member of the project, said other women were planning to go topless outside Keene District Court during Nicosia’s arraignment, which was scheduled for Wednesday. He wasn’t sure if the topless demonstration would still occur.

While Nicosia no longer faces a criminal charge, the dismissal prevents her from challenging the law and paving the way for other women to go topless in public without risking arrest, Bernard said.

“By dropping the charge they’ve really headed off any way to challenge what they’ve done and set a precedent,” he said. “Hopefully, if this happens again, if someone like Cassidy decides she’s hot and wants to act like her male counterparts, they can be left alone.”

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