Jury visits spot where mortally beaten Laconia man was found

LACONIA — The negligent homicide trial of a local man accused of beating one of his houseguests to death in May of 2011 began yesterday with a jury tour of the house trailer the two men were sharing at the time of the alleged assault.

Jason Durgin, dressed in a blue pin-stripped shirt and a dark tie, sat between co-counsels Wade Harwood and Tim Landry and listened without emotion as five counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, witness tampering, simple assault and false ...

LACONIA — The negligent homicide trial of a local man accused of beating one of his houseguests to death in May of 2011 began yesterday with a jury tour of the house trailer the two men were sharing at the time of the alleged assault.

Jason Durgin, dressed in a blue pin-stripped shirt and a dark tie, sat between co-counsels Wade Harwood and Tim Landry and listened without emotion as five counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, witness tampering, simple assault and false imprisonment were read to the 8-woman, 5-man jury.

Prosecutor Benjamin Agati was the first to tell the jury what he wanted them to see when as they prepared for the walk across to 399 South Main Street to view Durgin’s former home.

He said he wanted them to see the fence where “Leo LaPierre’s broken body was found.”

“You need to see this with your eyes,” Agati said.

He told them to be mindful of the layout of the inside of the trailer so when the various people who were inside the trailer give their testimony, they will understand who inside could have seen and heard what.

Agati also told them to be mindful of the area around the trailer that sits back off the street, off the south side of the parking lot at Quik Laundry and Cleaners.

“Notice how much the lattice (fencing) blocks the view of the driveway,” he said, adding that the area outside may be cleaner today than it was on May 3, 2011 but fence where LaPierre was found is still there.

He said he wanted them to notice the “few miserable feet of dirt and mud where Leo LaPierre was allowed to die,” noting police found him lying next to the place Durgin discarded his garbage.

Speaking on Durgin’s behalf, defense lawyer Tim Landry also asked the jury to pay close attention to the trailer and its immediate surroundings, especially the sight line from the front steps to where LaPierre was found by police the next day leaning against the fence.

He told the jury they would hear that a fourth person was in the trailer that night, Gary Fields, and he will tell them he left the trailer at 6:30 a.m. on the morning after the alleged altercation and did not see anything, including LaPierre allegedly propped up against the fence.

He told them two members of the Laconia Police Department will testify that they walked around the entire property one hour after the alleged altercation between 9:30 and 10 p.m. May 2 and didn’t see anything.

Landry also told them to notice the kitchen sink and the floor and remember they will hear that it was dirty and grimy but police didn’t find any blood. He said there were no signs of cleaning.

Jurors, along with members of the sheriff’s department, Judge James O’Neill, Durgin, and both the defense team and the prosecution team joined the view and walk-around.

Inhabited by a different person now, jurors were told how a shed the new tenant just built was not there the day LaPierre was found. Jurors toured the inside of the trailer in two groups of six because it is so small.

They were also able to view the exact spot and see the fence where LaPierre was found the morning after the alleged assault.

Breaking for lunch for two hours, jurors were asked to return to Courtroom 1 by 2 p.m. but it was nearly 3:15 p.m. before they returned to the jury box.

For nearly 90 minutes, lawyers from both the defense and prosecution team went in and out of O’Neill’s private chambers. When the trial reconvened, O’Neill said only that he had read the defense’s motion to reconsider one of his previous rulings and had again chosen to deny it, but he declined to give more of an explanation.

Asst. New Hampshire Atty. General Michael Lewis gave the prosecution’s opening statements.

“This man,” he said while pointing directly at Durgin, “killed a weak, homeless, helpless man by literally kicking him while he was down.”

“Leo LaPierre,” Lewis said giving the jury the name of the man who died.

“He,” said Lewis again pointing at Durgin, “walked up to him and in a rage he punched him in the face with such force that Leo fell to the floor, unconscious, injured and vulnerable, he kicked him in the face when he was down on the kitchen floor.”

Lewis described for the jury how the state medical’s examiner will testify LaPierre had a broken nose, the bones on the inside of his eye socket were broken and he was “covered in dirt, crumbled and abandoned like one of the defendants bags of garbage.”

He said the medical examiner found bleeding inside LaPierre’s brain that caused his brain to shift out of alignment.

“It took a week to kill him,” Lewis said. “But it didn’t take police that long to unravel what happened in the kitchen.”

Lewis told the jury about the state’s only eyewitness, Tracy Hebert, who he said was able to overcome her fear of Durgin to tell police what happened.

He said Hebert was in her bedroom the evening of the alleged attack and heard Durgin’s rage build when LaPierre damaged a water tank in the bathroom. He said Hebert will testify she came out of her bedroom.

“She saw him punch Leo. She saw Leo drop to the ground. She saw him kick Leo in the face. And when she tried to calm the situation, he turned his rage on her,” Lewis said telling the jury that a fearful Hebert returned to her room.

He told the jury Gary Fields will tell them he heard what Hebert saw. Lewis said Fields will testify when he saw the damage LaPierre did to the pipes he started to clean the bathroom when he heard Durgin allegedly begin yelling at LaPierre.

Lewis said Fields will testify that he heard two “thuds” and it was he who went to Leo and put him outside of the front steps because the “defendant wanted him to go.”

He said the medical examiner will explain to the jury how LaPierre began bleeding internally and that’s why there will be no evidence of his blood on the kitchen floor.

While Lewis admitted Hebert was not a perfect person, he told the jury she was the only one who tried to do anything for LaPierre and was the one who called 9-1-1 the next morning when one of her ex-boyfriends let her know LaPierre was outside propped up against the fence.

He also told the jury that the other three charges faced by Durgin — witness tampering, criminal restraint and simple assault — stemmed from Durgin’s attempts to prevent her from answering the door when police began knocking after finding LaPierre. He said Durgin allegedly “trapped” her in the back bedroom of the trailer.

Lewis told the jury her fear of Durgin, even when later surrounded by police, was so great that she initially lied to them and never told them her version of the truth until Durgin left the area and she saw two of her other friends who “gave her the support to tell the police what she saw.”

In his opening statement, defense attorney Wade Harwood told the jury the physical evidence will not support the prosecution’s opening statements.

“Tracy will tell you Jason punched Leo between 9:30 and 10 p.m.” he began.

“One hour later, Jason Durgin called the police. Someone was banging on his door,” Harwood began, laying out for the jury his defense.

He said Lacona Police Officers Peter Horan and Michelle Cardinal will testify that not only did the walk around the entire trailer at 11:07 p.m. — one hour after Hebert allegedly saw Durgin punch and kick LaPierre on May 2 — that they knocked on the door and spoke to both Durgin and Hebert.

“Horan will tell you LaPierre was nowhere to be seen. Cardinal will tell you the same thing,” Harwood said.

Harwood told the jury that Fields will tell them he left the trailer through the front door at 6:30 a.m. and he didn’t see LaPierre on the steps or in the yard against the fence.

“Jason Durgin is not guilty,” Harwood said, telling the jury the status of the case rests entirely on the unstable Hebert.

“She’ll tell you she has a terrible memory because of a dozen concussions,” Harwood said noting she will also tell them she was drinking up to one-half gallon of vodka a day during that time.

Harwood said the jury would learn that Hebert was also taking anxiety and pain medications while she was drinking on the night Durgin allegedly beat LaPierre.

“The state is asking you to convict a man on the testimony of a drunk, pill-popper with no memory,” Harwood said.

He told the jury they’ll hear how she wrote one statement, spoke to her friends and then told a different story to police. “Think about that conversation,” he asked the jury.

“Tracy doesn’t even remember police coming that night and Horan and Cardinal will tell you they spoke to Tracy,” he said.

“Tracy claims Gary Fields wasn’t there,” he continued. “Fields will tell you he was. Keep that in mind.”

Harwood said Fields would testify when he brought LaPierre to the steps after the alleged assault he told LaPierre he couldn’t stay because “he was tearing the place up.”

“He was conscious, sitting up and not bleeding,” Harwood said, noting the jury would also hear testimony that LaPierre’s blood doesn’t clot and that if he had a broken nose inside the trailer his blood would be in the kitchen.

Instead, Harwood said forensics experts will testify that only one drop of LaPierre’s blood was found in the trailer and that it was not where Hebert said she saw Durgin punch and kick him.

“You’ll hear when he was drunk, Leo was swinging a knife around,” Harwood said, telling the jury to think about the physical evidence and that it just doesn’t support the story the prosecution must prove to convict his client.

He also said there will be testimony that LaPierre’s injuries could have been caused by a fall and his blood alcohol level was .17 or twice the legal driving limit when it was tested at the hospital 13 hours after the allegedly assault.

“The only thing the state had is the story of Tracy Hebert and the state’s case just doesn’t add up,” he said.

Before calling it a day, the jury heard the state’s examination of its first witness, Laconia Police Officer Jonathan Howe who was the first person to arrive at the trailer minutes after 11:17 a.m. on May 3.

Howe testified that he was dispatched to a call for a person on the ground who was possibly drunk, and that when he first pulled drove up the 100 yard driveway to the trailer he didn’t see anyone.

He said he looked around the parking lot and was walking beyond the fence to knock on the trailer door when he looked to his right and saw LaPierre, who he recognized and knew, propped against the fence.

Howe demonstrated for the jury the position in which he found LaPierre by laying on the courtroom floor and slumping against the clerk’s desk his legs sticking straight out and leaning on his right arm and shoulder.

He said he initially touched LaPierre’s right leg with his right foot and called out his name to see if he was alert. He also said he noticed a cut on the right rear top of LaPierre’s head and the blood was “dark red.”

Howe said he stood back when EMTs and paramedics arrived and went to the trailer door and began knocking on it, announcing who he was and that he was with the LPD. He testified he heard nothing inside and his attempts to look through the front window were unsuccessful because of a curtain.

Once his supervisor, Sgt. Gary Hubbard, and an unidentified captain arrived, Howe said he began keeping a crime log — a written account of everyone who entered or exited the crime scene — after the captain taped off the area.

He said Hubbard banged on the trailer door, but initially no one came out. He said he was about 10 feet away from Hubbard so likely wouldn’t have heard anyone inside anyway.

He said he thought LaPierre was still breathing and testified that dark blood came from his throat when paramedics put a breathing tube down it.

Howe said it was about 11:47 a.m. when he saw Durgin and Hebert come out of the trailer and said they went off to speak to detectives. Howe also testified that he overheard Durgin tell a detective that he splashed some water on LaPierre’s face when he first learned he was outside.

Howe also testified that he saw a gray speckled pan near the fire pit and also noticed some gray speckle material in the cut on LaPierre’s head.

He said after his superiors arrived, his task was to keep the crime scene log and that his efforts were focused on that. He said he didn’t note the exact time Durgin left the area only that he had left.

The defense will cross-examine Howe when the trial resumes Thursday morning at 10 a.m.