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Witness balks & alleged heroin dealer walks

LACONIA — After two years of legal maneuvering and four separate Superior Court trials, the Belknap County Attorney's Office dropped the remaining charge of sales of narcotics against Alfredo Gonzalez yesterday. He is the Manchester man city police believed was responsible for supplying the heroin that killed a 22-year-old local mother in late March of 2011.

Gonzalez, 46, who had been incarcerated for two years in the Belknap County House of Corrections while awaiting trial, had maintained his innocence. He was represented by attorney Mark Sisti.

Earlier this week, and after the jury was picked for his trial for selling heroin — death resulting, Sisti learned that the Laconia Police were investigating a different person who had allegedly admitted on his Facebook page that he was the one who injected Denty with the heroin that killed her.

Sisti argued that the prosecution knew about the investigation seven weeks before Gonzalez's trial but never told him there was potentially exculpatory evidence or a different theory of her death.

The prosecution dropped the charge for sales of heroin — death resulting, and decided to continue prosecuting him for only for sales of heroin. When one of the key witnesses against him, Karen Mekkelson, asked to be immunized for her role in Denty's death, the prosecution's case apparently unraveled.

Yesterday, the state made a verbal motion to change the day of the sale from March 30, 2011 to May 11, 2011. Sisti argued that the change would indicate an entirely different crime and Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill agreed.

The prosecution dropped the final charge against Gonzalez and, as of yesterday afternoon, he was no longer in jail.

Gonzalez first became known to the public in 2011 when 22-year-old Denty was found dead of a heroin overdose by her neighbors on April 1. They said they heard Denty's two-year-old son crying inside their apartment and, when she didn't respond to their knocks, instructed him on how to unlock the door.

Laconia Police investigated her death and arrested Mekkelson, 29, Stephen Marando, 43 and Amanda Kelly, 31. All were charged with some role in supplying Denty with the heroin and all three pleaded guilty to drug-related charges. They are serving or have served sentences in the N.H. State Prison or the Belknap County House of Corrections.

Mekkelson has now filed a motion with the court asking that her conviction be set aside because she believes she was represented by "ineffective counsel" at the time she agreed to plead guilty.

The police said their investigation of the trio led them to a fourth person — Gonzalez — who was arrested by police in the parking lot at Vista Supermarket on September 1, 2011. He was charged with and later indicted on one count of sales of heroin — death resulting, and one count of sales of heroin. If he had been convicted, he faced the possibility of life in prison.

In a different case, Gonzales was indicted by a Belknap County grand jury for selling heroin on August 23, 2011 to a Laconia woman who was facing two counts of robbery in Gilford but who was working for Laconia Police in exchange for some consideration on the robbery charges.

Gonzalez's first trial for selling heroin to the confidential informant began in October of 2012 and ended in a mistrial three days later after the jury foreman spoke with Judge James O'Neill in his chambers.

The second trial for allegedly selling heroin to the confidential informant lasted two days and ended with a not-guilty finding after the jury deliberated for about an hour.

During the time he spent waiting in the Belknap County House of Corrections — he was being held in lieu of $100,000 cash-only bail — Gonzalez was involved in an altercation with two male prisoners. He agreed to plead guilty to assault on prisoners and was sentenced to time served.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 September 2013 02:05

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LRCC opens new building to house nursing, science & fire science programs

LACONIA — Two students — Nicole Soucy and Tom Newman — shared the honors at Lakes Region Community College (LRCC) yesterday when for just the third time in the 46-year history of the college a ribbon was cut to mark the opening of a new building.

The 24,000-square-foot companion to the Center for Arts and Technology, which opened in September 2005, completes a project begun in 2003. The new building will house the nursing, physical science and fire science programs as well as a multi-purpose room and faculty offices. Designed by SMRT, Inc. of Manchester and constructed by Bonnette, Page and Stone Corporation of Laconia, the building was completed at a cost $6.4 million.

"There were lots of shoulders we stood on to get this building built," said Scott Kalicki, president of LRCC, expressing his appreciation to Tom Clairmont, president and CEO of LRGHealthcare and Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council for assisting with designing and equipping the nursing complex.

Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire agreed "it takes a partnership," stressing that "everything we're doing here is for our students." He said that the college is playing a major role in developing the skilled workforce required to attract and retain businesses in the Lakes Region.

"This college changes people's lives," declared Paul Holloway, who chairs the Board of Trustees of the Community College System, "by offering opportunity and providing self-worth." Turning to several elected officials at the ceremony, he asked for their "increased support," adding "that means dollars."

Tom Goulette, vice-president of LRCC, called the new space "a fantastic shot in the arm for our college." The nursing program, which has operated in a few rooms of the academic building, has moved to the lower floor of the new building. It features a skills laboratory with eight beds, outfitted as though they were in a hospital and occupied by "high fidelity" mannikins, whose vital signs and medical conditions can be manipulated with the touch of a finger to simulate a variety of scenarios. There will be sufficient space and equipment to enroll 32 students in the two-year nursing program each year.

The science suite consists of two rooms for biological sciences and one each for physics and chemistry. The fire science program, the most popular offering on campus, has both a sprinklered training laboratory for controlled burns and a classroom. A multipurpose room with seating capacity for 140 people can be configured to provide a variety settings, including an auditorium.

Kalicki expects to be cutting another ribbon in the near future. He said that the 2013-2014 state budget includes $3.25-million for construction of a new building to house the automotive program at the college and design the renovation of the space it will vacate to accommodate the culinary arts program, which is now housed at Canterbury Shaker Village.

Last Updated on Monday, 10 March 2014 10:48

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Quest to authenticate 3 write-in votes likely to trigger Ward 5 recount

LACONIA — An alleged oversight by those working the polls in Ward 5 during the recent primary election has former city councilor Dave Gammon and former mayor Tom Tardif questioning the electoral process.

City Councilor Bob Hamel, running for re-election without opposition, received 39 of the 47 ballots cast on Sept. 10. After closing the polls and tallying the votes, the ward clerk and selectmen delivered the ballots and reported the results to City Clerk Mary Reynolds at City Hall. The paperwork did not indicate that anyone received a write-in vote for city council.

If write-in votes are cast, the person with the most, which could be as few as a single vote, is notified by the City Clerk that they have qualified for the general election in November and asks if they wish for their name to be placed on the ballot.

On Friday the 13th, Gammon went to City Hall and asked for a copy of the results. Gammon, who along with his wife, cast write-in votes for Tardif for city council was troubled to discover no write-in votes were recorded and Tardif would not appear on the general election ballot.

Reynolds said that since the results were certified and the ballots sealed, the only way to address the situation would be for Tardif to request, in writing, a recount by the close of business on the first Friday after the election. Alternatively, she explained to Gammon that five registered voters could petition the New Hampshire Secretary of State to conduct a recount before the second Friday after the election or, failing that, petition the Superior Court to order a recount.

This week Gammon and Tardif requested and received a computer print-out of the election results, which showed three-write-in votes for the city council seat in Ward 5. Subsequently, Gammon received a call from a voter, who said that she also cast a write-in ballot for Tardif.

Reynolds explained that the ballots are sealed before they leave the polling station and cannot be opened except in accordance with the statutes governing recounts. Without recounting the ballots there is no way of confirming the number of write-in votes that were cast or the identity of those whose names were in.

Tardif said yesterday that he understands the dilemma facing the clerk and expects five registered voters to petition the Secretary of State for a recount before the week is out. He said that Gammon is determined to ensure that his vote, along with those of any others who cast write-in ballots, are counted.

Asked if he will run against Hamel in the general election if a recount awards him a place on the ballot, Tardif replied "that's a hard question. I'm not going to put my foot in my mouth until I've seen the ballots."

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 September 2013 01:38

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History of New England food will be on the table at special dinner in Center Harbor on Friday night

CENTER HARBOR — Though they walk in their footsteps, contemporary New Englanders enjoy a diet that is far different from that of the Europeans who colonized the region centuries ago. Foods served on local tables have been affected by changing religious views, trade, technology and politics. Even so, some dishes have managed to hold on to their place on the dinner table through the generations, giving today's diners a direct link to the Puritans who arrived nearly 400 years ago.

The question of what those early New Englanders ate was one that fascinated cookbook author and cooking instructor Barbara Lauterbach, who combined her twin passions of history and food to conduct enough research into the matter to give a presentation on the topic to the Center Harbor Historical Society. The idea also captured the imagination of Amy Elfline, owner of restaurants The Mug and The Bay, who mined Lauterbach's findings to compile a menu for one of her chef's night dinners.

On Friday night, from 5 to 9 p.m., diners at The Bay will be able to sample a selection of dishes that have nourished hungry New England residents for centuries.
Lauterbach, who was assisted in her research by her daughter, Elisabeth Laskin, associate dean at Harvard Summer School, found that the Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts in the 17th Century existed on a bland diet, one that was resulting as much from religious philosophy as it was from necessity.

"They were strongly conscientious, religion affected their diet greatly," said Lauterbach. When it came to their food, Puritans equated the bland with the pious, she said. They learned to grow corn from the American Indians they encountered, she said, and those who lived near the coast took advantage of lobsters and an abundance of cod, which was salted as a means of preservation.

Parsnips and carrots, brought from Europe, were mixed with native squashes and vegetables. Lauterbach found that a staple of the diet was a kind of legume referred to as "field pease." These had little in common to sweet green peas, instead they were small, white beans that could be dried for later use and the boiled until they disintegrated into a paste-like porridge. The dish would be consumed hot or cold, with little to no seasoning, for days at a time. Indeed, the saying "Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old" was as much a menu plan as it was a nursery rhyme.
The porridge would often have been eaten with a piece of brown bread. Especially for the first several generations of New Englanders, white flour would have been reserved for only special occasions or for the wealthiest of residents. Instead, this bread would have been made from a dough of wheat flour mixed with the more readily-available corn meal.
It's fortunate for contemporary eaters that time marched onward from the bland pot of porridge. Lauterbach said that once cooks relaxed their Puritan ideals and trade routes made the ingredients accessible, they began adding saltpork, molasses and other spices to their beanpots, resulting in the much more palatable baked beans so closely associated with Boston.
New England clam chowder is another dish of the ages that underwent a similar evolution. Dairy products were a scarce commodity in New England prior to the widespread introduction of dairy herds in the 19th Century. Prior to this development, said Lauterbach, chowder would have been a much thinner soup, then became the rich, creamy concoction once milk and cream became one of the region's most affordable products.
Another food item closely associated with New England also came to the fore midway through the 1800s. When the 19th Century began, molasses was a common sweetener. However, it being a commodity imported from south of the Mason-Dixon line, northern cooks boycotted the product during the Civil War, and maple syrup usurped molasses's spot in New England's pantries.
Of all the long-lived dishes still served in the region, Lauterbach said the New England boiled dinner is likely the one that changed the least over time. Simply a chunk of meat, placed in a pot with vegetables and cooked for hours on the hearth, it would have been a great way for a 17th Century housewife to prepare a hearty dinner while attending to other chores while it bubbled away. The only difference between that meal and one served today would be that modern cooks would likely be more generous with seasonings.
Through her research, Lauterbach said, "I came to the conclusion that what goes around comes around." Today's culinarians prize locally-sourced, organic ingredients, which were all that the Pilgrims had access to. "However," added Lauterbach, "it's ever so much improved."
The menu for the Sept. 20 chef's night dinner, said Elfline, will feature chowder, boiled dinner, baked beans with brown bread and salmon with peas and an egg sauce, all served tapas-style. For dessert, a slice of apple pie and a piece of sharp cheddar.
"The idea is to take people through what they used to serve in New Hampshire 200 years ago," said Elfline. However, she added, her chef will be aiming to please the modern palate more so than Puritan ideals. "We will add a little more spice than what they did — we certainly want to make it flavorful, but we want to make it as authentic as possible so people can see how they used to eat."
The cost of the chef's night dinner is $30 per person, call 677-7141 to make a reservation.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 02:57

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