By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MANCHESTER — Did a former Belknap County Sheriff's deputy coerce a female inmate into having sex, or did she use him for his cell phone and cigarettes?
This is what a jury must decide in the aggravated felonious sexual assault case against Ernest Justin Blanchette that began yesterday with the victim testifying for all of the morning and much of the afternoon.
"I give him something, he gives me something," said alleged victim "B.H." who is still incarcerated in the New Hampshire Prison for Women in Goffstown.
Blanchette was indicted for having sex with her at an abandoned house in Bedford during her transport to Goffstown after she was sentenced to serve two to four years for a parole violation in Belknap County.
Both sides agreed that sex took place. What the jury has to decide is whether or not Blanchette coerced her into having sex by letting her use his cell phone.
In the opening statement, the state, led by Assistant Hillsborough County Prosecutor Nicole Schultz-Price, told the jury that Blanchette physically held the key to her shackles during the three times he transported her. She said that, unlike most people, inmates are not entitled to the things most of us take for granted – like the ability to call someone without being monitored or to get cigarettes.
Schultz-Price said that they state will prove four things: that they had sex, that Blanchette acted knowingly, that he was in a position of authority, and that he used his position to coerce her.
Blanchette's attorney, Brad Davis, told the jury that the sex wasn't coerced under of Blanchette's authority but because B.H. wanted to have sex with him. He said she has a long history of lying that has led to multiple convictions, including identity fraud, theft, shoplifting, and giving false statements to the police.
He also told the jury she had a financial motive, which was a civil suit against Belknap County that she told her friends was going to get her between $100,000 and $1 million.
The jury learned from Davis that B.H. was the one who knew where the abandoned house was in Bedford and that B.H. told him how to find it.
They jury also learned the two had sex once before, which was following a dentist appointment in September 2014 after he transported her to a dentist appointment. She said she found him attractive.
Judge Gillian Abramson told the jury that they were not to infer sex in Bedford from what allegedly happened in Belmont. That only the coercion was to be considered.
B.H. is a tiny woman who wore her long blond hair tied back in a tight pony tail. Under direct examination, she said she had never met Blanchette until the dentist appointment in 2014. She said she got into the van and that without saying anything, he offered her the use of his cell phone. A Bedford Police detective later testified they found two cell phones in Blanchette's duty van.
While crying on and off and seemingly shrinking into the witness stand, she wrung her hands almost continually and answered Assistant County Attorney Michael Zaino's questions. She said she was distraught after being sentenced to two years and saw Blanchette in the basement of the jail. He said he would transport one man back to Belknap County Corrections and be back for her.
She said this time she said she asked him if she could use his phone and he gave it to her. She testified she called her father, her son, and a few friends. She said she asked Blanchette if he could tell her if her fiance was wanted on any warrants in New Hampshire and the he checked on his computer and showed her that he wasn't.
B.H said Blanchette pulled down a dirt road in Loudon where she smoked a cigarette he gave her and they talked. She admitted she said she told him she wasn't going to be able to have sex for two years, but didn't remember who brought it up.
She said he drove some way on a road she said was different and asked for a second cigarette once they neared the prison but he didn't know where she could smoke it so she led him to the abandoned house. Once in the house, she said he took down his pants, that she took off hers and they has sex while he was sitting in the chair. She said they wiped themselves with some toilet paper left on the table.
She smoked a second cigarette, which the jury later learned was found by a Bedford detective and tested for DNA, and went to prison.
B.H. said she was "wicked uncomfortable" after their first encounter in Belmont but that she didn't know if she had a choice because he was the person in charge; that he, the sheriff, had control.
Once at jail, she said she told an inmate at the jail and a few day later she got pulled into the medical department, taken to the hospital for an exam which included a rape kit. She said she initially denied having sex with Blanchette when questioned by the prison detective and the first Bedford detective because she was afraid she would get in trouble and she didn't want to get him in trouble.
She also said that once the word got out she was approached by about six different lawyers about a civil suit.
Attorney Wade Harwood was in the courtroom for the entire day and will likely represent her in any civil suit. Also in the courtroom was Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen and her assistant attorney Adam Wood. They will be prosecuting Blanchette for nine more rape charges in Belknap County, including two involving B.H.
Under cross examination, she said said she finally admitted the sex to the third detective who interviewed her. Davis asked her if she said "she was all for it" and she said, "No, I said he didn't rape me."
Davis asked her if she was hoping for more than a cigarette when they went to the house in Bedford and she said "not hoping. Maybe I figured it would happen."
She said she was hoping he would transport her after she saw him near the holding cell in Belknap County Superior Court.
Davis got out copies of letters she had written from jail. She said she didn't know there were copies but was aware her phone conversations were recorded. In one of them, which was played for the jury, one of her friends called her out on the civil suit, saying that she had wanted to have sex with Blanchette because she thought he was sexy.
Davis read portions of three separate letters to three unknown addressees in which she stated she was going to get a big payoff from the state. She wrote that she felt guilty, that she would never put someone in jail, even a cop and that she didn't tell on him but told "some b----- inmate" who told on her. She said that now that the information was out there, she was going to make the best of it.
On the stand she said that as of now, that was the way she felt.
The final person to testify yesterday was Blanchette's estranged wife, who told the court she remembered the July 2 transport because she was working and sent him a text message that he should try to get home early because of the three-day weekend.
She said Blanchette told her that he took the late transport because he was the supervisor and he wanted to let the other guys go home for the long weekend.
She also testified that after he was sent home by the sheriff, he only gradually told her the entire story because she kept pressing him. She said he lied repeatedly to her and both his family and hers, telling one story that he only self-manipulated himself so she could see his penis because she told him she wasn't going to see any for two years.
She said he kept telling her that the jury would believe him before they would believe "some scum bag," which reduced B.H. to tears as she sat in the back of the courtroom. Blanchette's wife said Blanchette also told her that B.H. "looked like a troll," and that when she sat on him in the chair in the Bedford house, he threw he off him.
The state will finish presenting its case Thursday morning. Blanchette's defense will come after that.
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