By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Belknap County Attorney revealed that former sheriff's deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette offered special privileges of cigarettes and cell phone use to many female inmates by taking the transport van to the second floor of the parking garage where they could smoke cigarettes.
She said other places people identified by people interviewed in the course of the criminal investigation against him were behind a huge snow pile in Laconia, a long dirt road in the city, and a secluded driveway in Belmont that was near an abandoned house.
While Blanchette isn't facing any criminal charges for most of these acts, County Attorney Melissa Guldbransen offered this evidence in the state's recent request to combine all of his alleged rape crimes in Belknap County into one trial by saying they all represent a similar pattern of coercion.
In the nine criminal cases for aggravated felonious sexual assault in Belknap County, the state claims Blanchette took a man incarcerated at the State Prison in Boscawen and the prisoner's fiancee, who was an inmate at the Belknap County jail, in the transport van together and encouraged them to have sex in the police van while he took them to family court in Franklin.
Blanchette allegedly claimed he would tilt the camera so he couldn't see the couple and drove for a while. At some point, he pulled the van off the road and the two stopped their sexual activity, although he allegedly told them they didn't have to stop. He separated them at some point near a dump station and handcuffed them before arriving at court.
On the return trip, the state alleges he stopped at the same dump station and removed their handcuffs again, and they were allowed to console each other for a while before he took them to the old train station in Tilton, separated them again and put handcuffs back on them.
Following this first encounter, the state alleges that Blanchette spoke with the male defendant and told him he would allow the one-on-one contact to continue provided he could watch. Between July 1 and Nov. 30 of 2013, Blanchette transported prisoner "J.W." multiple times and on at least two of them, picked up J.W.'s fiancee, "S.W.", who by then was no longer incarcerated, allegedly brought them to secluded places and watched them have intercourse. They both told investigators that Blanchette stood by, crossed his arms and smirked. The state alleges that while J.W. tried to prevent Blanchette from seeing his fiancee, Blanchette allegedly positioned himself so he could.
The state alleges that Blanchette also allowed J.W. to use his phone and also provided him with cigarettes and marijuana.
He also allegedly told them he didn't want them to do anything that would get him fired and said that if "you tell, you're going to get yourself in trouble."
In a case with two different victims, Blanchette allegedly drove such that a female inmate in Merrimack County identified only as "A.F." could see the home where her fiance, who is now her husband, lived. While doing so, he gave her a cell phone and told her to call him, allowing her to get out of the van and hug her former fiance's father.
Learning A.F.'s fiance "W.F.", was at a nearby restaurant, Guldbrandsen alleges Blanchette allowed A.F. to contact him with the cell phone and make arrangements to meet. Once they met, he allegedly gave W.F. the handcuff key and watched while the two of them had sex in the back seat.
On a second transport from Concord of the woman, he allegedly picked up W.F. again while A.F. was in the van and allowed sexual contact. On another occasion, he allegedly allowed A.F. to visit with her children. Again he told them not to tell anyone lest he be fired.
Blanchette's attorney, Brad Davis, has filed a motion to dismiss this case because he said that no specific acts of coercion or intimidation were included in the actual indictment. In it, he noted that A.F. and W.F. had learned about the charges from reading about Blanchette's arrest for rape after a correctional officer showed her a newspaper. He said the story asked for people who may have been victims or have information to come forward and that she only came forward because she was concerned about what may be on any tape from the van. Davis said she described Blanchette as a friend and was grateful to him for allowing her and her husband to see each other while she was in jail.
He argues that A.F. was concerned because she thought there may be a tape of what she and W.F. did in the van, but took two years to come forward from the time the alleged crimes happened.
The balance of the cases charge that Blanchette had sex with "B.H.", who was a prisoner in state prison at the time. Trial for a single charge of aggravated felonious sexual assault is scheduled to being Wednesday morning in the Hillsborough North Superior Court in Manchester. The remaining charges alleges similar sexual encounters that took place in Belknap County.
In the state's argument that all of the cases be tried together, Guldbransen said that all of the crimes show the same pattern of events, that the motive was the same, that each case required many of the same witnesses, and that they are logically and factually connected.
Davis also asked that if the judge decides not to dismiss the case, that he get a bill of particulars, which is a tool for providing enough details such a person isn't charged twice for the same crime.
In her reply, Guldbransen said this issue was just addressed this month by the New Hampshire Supreme Court when it ruled that an indictment is enough if it contains the language of the relevant law and doesn't need to specify the means by which the crime was committed.
She said Blanchette's position of authority couple with allowing the couple to use his cell phone and his other actions were "coercive activities used by the defendant to coerce the victim into performing sexual acts with another."
The judge in Belknap County has yet to rule on these latest motions.
The state argues that cases be joined when they meet certain criteria and that in this instance, all of the cases do. Guldbrandsen said in each case, Blanchette offered things like cell phone use, cigarettes and marijuana and used those privileges as coercion to get them to do what he wanted.
Davis said he doesn't object to the cases that involve S.W. and J.W. to be combined because they involve the same alleged victims, but he objects to combining the cases involving B.H. and W.F. and A.F. together because they don't.
He said there is no commonality between the S.W. and J.W. case with the other two, as they have different motives in that in all of the cases involving B.H. the motive appears to be such that Blanchette wanted to have sex with the alleged victim.
He said all cases in involving W.F and A.F., the mode of operation was different, but no single factor prove they are related.
Davis said trying all of the cases at the same time is overly prejudicial and that the allegations took place over different spans of time and alleged different acts. He said combining the cases in Belknap County into one trial would jeopardize Blanchette's right to a fair trial and that should be the overriding consideration.