Rape trial begins

Belmont man’s alleged victim only told story after plea bargain on theft charge


LACONIA — A local jury will have to decide whether a longtime Belmont businessman sexually assaulted a girl from the time she turned 13 until she was 17 nearly two decades ago or whether she fabricated the assaults to avoid going to jail for stealing from him in 2014.

According to the opening argument by Assistant Strafford County Attorney Alysia Cassotis and testimony given Monday by the alleged victim in Belknap County Superior Court, Steven Price, 66, of Laconia was a friend of the alleged victim's father and helped her and her family financially during the time she was a young teen. Price owns Lakes Region Fiberglass and the woman is now 34.

Price's attorney James Moir said in his opening argument that the woman made up the sexual assault charges against Price because she stole $30,000 in jewelry from him and his wife in 2014 and waited until the day she was scheduled to plead guilty to tell her attorney that Price had repeatedly sexually assaulted her as a child.

The alleged victim testified first on Monday and said that when she was about 12, she began to grow very fond of Price, who took her fishing and spent time with her, unlike her own father, who was an alcoholic. She said he was also like a father to her younger brother.

"We got along very well," said said, telling the jury that they both grew up poor and had a lot in common.

The victim told the jury she fell in love with him, and he began kissing and fondling her when she was about 12. She said the first time they had sexual intercourse was when she was "about 13," when they were in a cemetery off South Road after they had been riding around in his Red Dodge pickup. She said he told her that when she was 18, or "old enough," he would leave his wife and marry her.

She said the relationship continued with sex of all kinds on a regular basis until she was 17 and she moved eventually to Florida.

"I was in love with him," she testified repeatedly through her tears, adding that she would always love him.

The woman testified that Price continued to help her even after she eventually moved to Florida, married, and had two children. She said he would pay to fly her and her children to New Hampshire around her birthday and that they would occasionally have sex.

She also testified that once, when she was still a minor, one of Price's employees caught them having sex on his business property and reported it to the police. She said on three occasions officers from the Belmont Police Department came to speak with her and that all three times she had called Price and let him know the police were planning on talking to her.

The alleged victim also testified that by 2014, she was living in Bristol and was addicted to pain killers. She said she needed money to pay the rent and went to Price for help.

She said he told her he was having his own financial problems and he was unable to help her.

According to her, he opened the office safe and said, "Do what you need to do," and left the room. She testified she took some jewelry and old coins.

Under cross examination from Price's attorney, Jim Moir, she admitted that she pawned $30,000 worth of jewelry and old coins for about $1,000 and paid her rent. She said she likely bought some drugs with the money but held firm that most of it went toward the rent.

During his opening arguments, Moir said she was arrested for theft when Price's wife reported the missing items to the Belmont Police. She was arrested and indicted with a felony charge of theft.

During the time leading up to her agreement to plead guilty, she was represented by attorney John Bresaw of the New Hampshire Public Defender's Office. She testified Monday that Price kept telling her that he would take care of it.

When the day came for her to enter her guilty plea in court and be sentenced to jail for the theft, she said she told Bresaw the story about the sexual assaults.

Bresaw, according to opening statements, went to Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen who postponed the woman's plea bargain and began an investigation into Price about the woman's sexual assault allegations. Because of her role as investigator and potential witness, Guldbrandsen and her office were prohibited from prosecuting the case.

Eventually, Guldbrandsen and the Cassotis granted full immunity to the woman for the theft charges and brought charges against Price for "pattern" aggravated felonious sexual assault, meaning there was a pattern of abuse that lasted from the time she was 13 until she turned 17 and became a legal adult.

Trial continues Wednesday afternoon.

Cuocolo: Shooting was an ‘accident’


LACONIA — A Meredith man who was caught by police three days after he allegedly shot a woman in the head in Belmont told police the gun accidentally went off when he pulled it from his waistband.

Affidavits obtained from the Belknap County Superior Court said Jason Cuocolo, 42, of or formerly of 35 Lang St. Apt. B, who was also known as "the preacher," was one of four people who were the overnight guests of the tenants of an apartment at 24 Arlene Drive in Belmont when he allegedly fired the single shot that went into the victim's head just above her eye, exited through her neck and buried itself into her shoulder.

All four of the guests, two men and two women, were staying in the basement of one of the two apartments after they spent some time in Laconia near the Family Dollar, according to affidavits.

The three guests and the woman who lives in the home all gave statements to police and in some cases they are not consistent; however, they were all included in the affidavits. It appears only the victim knew Cuocolo's real name and that the two people who were with them knew him only as "the preacher."

A man who lives in the home on Arlene Drive told police that his wife was working the midnight shift when he got a call from a male friend who wanted to know if he could stay with them for the night. The man said it was all right, but that his wife was working overnight, that he had children in the home and he would have to stay in the basement, and leave first thing in the morning.

He later told police he knew his friend was coming but didn't know he was bringing three others.

According to a woman who was with Cuocolo and the victim, the two women slept on a single mattress in a basement and the two men slept on the floor. She said they had all entered through the back door around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 and went directly to the basement.

She said that when she woke at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 11, Cuocolo and the victim were already awake and they all began to pack their things when told by Cuocolo they all had to leave. She said while she was bringing some of her possessions that were stored at the house to her car, she heard a loud bang.

Coucolo came from the house and told her they had to leave, according to the affadavit. She said she didn't know what to do, so she crawled into the back seat when Cuocolo allegedly pointed the gun at her and told her to give him the keys. She said she did so and got out of the car.

The woman who lived in the house said she didn't know anyone was in the basement and that after she returned home from work at 8 a.m., she thought she was alone with her 3-year-old daughter and that her husband had driven to Manchester to get his son.

She told police she was on the couch with her daughter when she heard a loud noise. She said she thought someone was in the basement and had broken something, so she went to the basement stairs and yelled downstairs to learn what was happening.

She said went back upstairs because her daughter was crying and she saw a man run out the back door. The woman said she went outside to confront him, carrying her daughter, when a bald man turned and pointed a gun at her and allegedly said, "Don't make me do it."

She told police she asked him if he was going to shoot her and her baby and estimated he was about 10 feet from her. When she turned to shield the child, she said he backed the black Nissan out of the driveway.

The man who had called the home in the first place also spoke to police and said he had called his friend because they needed a place to stay.

He told police that before he allegedly saw Coucolo shoot the victim, she had said something to him in a very calm voice. He said he saw the man he knew as "the preacher" grab a black gun from his waistband and shoot her in the head.

He said that when they all woke in the morning, the women were "doing their hair." He said he heard the victim tell Coucolo that they needed to pick up some medication that day and the two had a discussion about it. He told police he was facing them.

The man said he saw the victim slump and fall to the ground. He said she got back up and charged at Cuocolo, who pushed her to the ground.

He told police he began helping the victim by putting pressure on her head, and while this was happening, he said Cuocolo came back and pointed the gun at him and demanded the keys to his female friend's car. He said he gave them to him and Cuocolo left the basement.

He described Cuocolo as short and stocky.

Affidavits also said that the victim was able to tell police who arrived first that her alleged assailant was "the preacher" and said "Jason Cuclo." Police said they found the woman in the front foyer between the two apartments and said there was a trail of blood that led to the basement.

Police said they found a gun holster and an single spent bullet casing.

State Police detectives said they began their investigation and Meredith Lt. Keith True notified them he knew the victim and "the preacher," whom he identified as Jason Cuocolo.

True told them he had contact with Cuocolo on Sept. 24 because of some domestic violence investigations.

Cuocolo was arrested on Oct. 14 around 1 p.m. on Livingston Road after he was spotted by a Meredith Police officer. He surrendered to him at gunpoint without incident.

It was during his interview with state police that he said the gun accidentally went off when he removed it from his pants waistband.

Cuocolo waived his arraignment in Superior Court Monday and is being held on $250,000 cash-only bail. Should he post bail, the court has said it will hold a source-of-funds hearing.

He is charged with one count of first-degree assault, one count of second-degree assault, one count of armed robbery and one count of criminal threatening.

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Does it stink? - Testimony begins in case over Mayhew Funeral home crematorium


MEREDITH — A local man told a judge on Monday that his efforts to run a motorcycle museum has been scuttled because of what he claims are noxious emissions from the chimney of a crematorium located at a
neighboring funeral home.

"It's changed our lives," Doug Frederick said, of what he claims are foul odors and ash-like particles allegedly emanating from the crematorium in the Mayhew Funeral Home which abuts the American Police Motorcycle Museum property.

Peter and Kelley Mayhew and their business Mayhew Funeral Home Inc. initially filed a slander suit against Frederick and his wife, Leslyee. In it they claim the couples' continued public assertions that their crematorium is the source of alleged emissions, has defamed them in a business where reputation is paramount.

The Fredericks countersued, claiming the crematorium is a public and private nuisance.

During an afternoon hearing held in Carroll County Superior Court because of a conflict with a judge in Belknap County, retired police officers testified that the nose knows.

"I've had experience with burned bodies, and the smell of burned human flesh remains in your mind file for life," testified Gerry Lavigne of Campton, who said he served 26 years as a Manchester police officer.

Retired Bay State police officer John Nash, who now lives in Moultonborough, said when he visited the museum he was struck by a "God awful smell" that coated the back of his throat and was unable to abate it. He recounted having to witness autopsies during his career and told the judge the smell he experienced while at the Meredith museum was worse.

"There is nothing like it," he said.

Nick Leary, who works as a state trooper in Connecticut and handles a dog trained to sniff out cadavers, testified that he is a motorcycle enthusiast and visits the museum about five times a year.

"I could smell it in the air. It's a distinct smell and once you smell it you never forget it," he said of his recollections of a noontime visit to the museum on June 2.

The hearing Monday was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., but was postponed for 45 minutes to allow the plaintiffs to arrive.

When Judge Amy L. Ignatius took the bench, she said the court had not been notified that that either an illness had occurred or that the plaintiffs were stalled in traffic. The court file contained a copy of the notice that was sent to all parties notifying them of the date and time of the hearing, she said.

Attorney William Woodbury of Laconia, who represents the Fredericks, told the judge he had 15 witnesses in the courtroom waiting to testify one of which had traveled from Philadelphia. He said he'd called opposing counsel's office and been told that attorney Marc Van Zanten wasn't in, and that co-counsel was believed to be at lunch.

"It's frustrating. There are a lot of people here," the judge said.
Woodbury said he was unsure when he would be able to schedule all of the witnesses to appear en masse again, and urged the judge to allow the hearing to go forward.

"I'm mindful that people have traveled from near and far and I guess in light of that I will begin," the judge said.

Woodbury represented that he had disclosed the names of all of his witnesses to the plaintiffs.

He argued that the Fredericks are under threat of irreparable personal, professional and financial harm if the crematorium is allowed to continue to operate and asked that the judge either issue an injunction halting its use outright, or limit its operation to nighttime hours, until such time as the case is adjudicated.

While conceding that the museum closed its doors to the general public on July 18, Woodbury said, the Fredericks are still on the property daily packing up three floors of police memorabilia and to allow the owners of motorcycles and other exhibit pieces that were on loan to pick them up. On weekends they have been holding a moving sale. The proceeds from items being sold will be used to help them relocate the museum and to offset legal fees, he said.

In response to questions from the judge about whether a new home for the museum had been found, Doug Frederick said that he'd just learned that the Lakeport Fire Station was for sale and was looking into that.

Among those testifying was Mark Diette of Moultonborough, who disclosed he still holds the mortgage on the property. He recounted that after reading that the museum was closing, he visited the property to talk to the Fredericks. When he toured the building that he formerly operated as a group antique shop, he said the interior has been totally renovated to serve as a museum. While walking the property with the Fredericks, Diette said, he could see heat waves coming from the crematorium chimney.

Bill Firth of Gilford testified that in late May when he and his wife were stuck in traffic on Route 3 near the Mayhew Funeral Home, an acrid smell caused him to suffer an asthma attack.

"The fumes just took my breath away. It was like breathing oven cleaner." He twice used his rescue inhaler to help abate the attack.

Michael Lingley of Rollingsford, who is an enthusiast of Indian motorcycles told the judge that when he came to Meredith to he stopped at the McDonald's restaurant across Route 3 from the funeral home to get something to eat.

"I smelled an odor and asked them what they were cooking that smelled so bad. They said it's not us, but the crematorium across the street," Lingley testified.

After leaving the restaurant, he went to the museum and said he spoke with Doug Frederick and joked about the exchange he'd just had with the restaurant worker.

"He didn't think it was funny," Lingley said.

In his own testimony, Doug Frederick recounted that during his career as a police officer he'd been to the scene of some 200 homicides.

"It is a smell a policeman never forgets," he said of the odor that he claims wafts onto the museum property from the crematorium.

"I could not longer in good conscience bring people into the museum. The smell was punishing," he said.

About 45 minutes after the hearing began, the court clerk informed the judge that the plaintiff's lawyer had called and said he was unaware that the hearing was scheduled for that day.

After hearing the testimony, Judge Ignatius said she would review the evidence and issue a written ruling at a later date. She said she would also be considering whether or not to allow the plaintiff's counsel to listen to a recording of the proceedings and if he should be allowed to file a written response.

The case is tentatively on track to go to trial next April.

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