LACONIA — Following a hearing in Belknap County Superior Court on Tuesday, Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court granted the request of Attorney Mark Sisti, who is defending Amy Lafond against charges that her reckless and negligent driving caused the death of one teenage girl and severely injured another, to postpone her trial.
Originally scheduled to begin with the selection of a jury on February 3, the trial will now begin on May 5.
O'Neill denied Sisti's first request to continue the trial, which was scheduled to begin with a final pre-trial conference on January 13 and selection of a jury on February 3. Sisti, who was retained as defense council on November 22, told the court he was scheduled to try cases in Merrimack County and Rockingham County in January and February. Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen assented to the request. However, O'Neill found the grounds insufficient.
Sisti asked the court to reconsider the denial, this time arguing that the schedule did not afford him enough time to either "relate competent advice to his client with regard to the decision whether to plead guilty (or) to proceed to trial — let alone represent her at trial." Referring to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions, he concluded that "to go forward ensures the defendant deficient representation that will undoubtedly spur unnecessary litigation."
With about 15 members of Lilyanna Johnson's relatives and friends in the courtroom, Sisti amplified his arguments at the hearing on Tuesday. In terms of difficulty, Sisti described the case as an eight on a10-point scale, noting that it will take at least 100 hours to review the evidence in the case, much of which he described as technical in nature and posing "scientific challenges."
Guldbrandsen did not contest the request. "I do see my duty to ensure she gets a competent defense," said Guldbrandsen, agreeing that the case is complex and technical. "It's my duty to see she gets a fair trial."
When O'Neill asked her how the victims' families felt about an extension, Guldbrandsen said that they are "frustrated" and submitted a "memo of input from the victims' family regarding continuance expressing their desire that the trial go forward as soon as possible.
Lafond, 52, is charged with manslaughter and two counts of negligent homicide arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on Messer Street, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with several drug offenses and traffic violations.