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Prosecution rests as mother of alleged victim testifies in Tilton rape trial

LACONIA — The prosecution of a Tilton man for rape and indecent exposure ended yesterday as the jury saw a tape of the disabled alleged victim, heard from the alleged victim's mother and listened to a second man who testified he witnessed the event.

The 30-minute tape of an attempt at a forensic interview of the alleged victim, 22 at the time, showed a small man with black hair who was uncooperative, didn't want to listen or obey any instructions, and who was in constant motion. He could say "no" and uttered a few words but the interview was unsuccessful.

After the tape, the victims' mother said she had known Thomas Gardner — the man accused of having fellatio performed on him by the disabled man — for years and that they had lived together for 15 years. She said they met when her son was 5-years-old and "she considered (Gardner) more or less like his dad."

Gardner is accused of one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of indecent exposure.

She said her son has multiple disabilities that include seizures and epileptic fits. She said he had a high pain tolerance and will bite himself if he is in a stressful or unfamiliar place. She also said he would bite down during seizures.

The mother also said that even after she broke up with Gardner, he continued to play an active role in her son's life — often taking him for weekends and caring for him when she had to work or go to school.

She said some of the things her son enjoyed doing with him were visiting her at her job and going for rides in the car. She said the car rides calmed him.

On the day of the alleged sex crime, January 17, 2013, she said she was working as a parking attendant for the Tilton Police Department when Det. Nathan Buffington contacted her and told her she should go to her son immediately because there had been an incident.

She also said Gardner had called her and told her to pick up her son because the police had made an accusation against him.

The woman said the Tilton Police Department cut back her hours, came to her house and got her uniforms, and then terminated her.

The mother said she took her son to Concord Hospital the day the rape was reported and an advocate asked him questions but he'd answer yes or no or just laugh. She said when they checked him like they did at a regular visit, he began to get agitated.

"He didn't know why he was there. It wasn't a normal thing for him," she said, saying her son often goes to the hospital but because he wasn't sick he didn't understand why he was there that day.

She said they medicated him and did blood and hair swabs but nothing else could be done because the doctors would have had to intubate him and he had nearly died from a similar procedure two years before following some dental surgery.

Under cross examination, she testified that during the 32 days her son was hospitalized after the intubation, Gardner visited him frequently.

The alleged victim's mother also described the Volkwagen Rabbit Gardner owned, saying she doesn't think there were ever any seat covers — something Det. Nathan Buffington alluded to during his testimony.

The mother said her son also has a mustache — something that the two men who leveled the accusation against Gardner, Mark Corente and Joseph Ernst, said they didn't see.

Ernst was the state's last witness and he said he and Corente were at Sherryland (mobile home) Park that day to look for trailers that Corente said he had seen advertized for sale on line.

He said he saw Gardner's Volkswagen come through the park, drive past Corente's car and park a little way down the road. Corente testified yesterday that Gardner couldn't have driven past his car because he had parked in the middle of the street.

Ernst said that when he and Corente saw Gardner's car they got back into theirs and drove the short distance to where Gardner was parked. He said it was a chilly winter day and Gardner's drivers side window was open.

Under direct examination, Ernst said he got out of the passenger door of Corente's car, walked up to the window and saw what he said was an erect penis with a boy's mouth on it.

He said the boy sat up and Ernst asked Gardner if he knew anything about the trailers. He said Gardner "stuttered" and said "no" so he got back into Corente's car and the two drove to back to the entrance to the park and called 911.

He said Corente spoke with the police but was disconnected.

Under cross examination, defense attorney Amy Ashworth reviewed Ernst and Corente's path through the park that included Ernst saying he'd seen Gardner park where he parked.

He stated that he never saw the alleged victim's head "pop up" before he got out of the car, which is what Corente said yesterday. He said he saw his mouth but not his mustache.

When Ashworth asked him if he saw what he thought was a young boy performing fellatio on an adult man and still asked him about trailers, Ernst said he saw the head pop up after he got back to Corente's car.

He testified that the two left the park, drove to Corente's house off Lancaster Hill Road and that Corente called Buffington. He said they went from Corente's home back to Sherryland Park to meet Buffington and then to the Tilton Police Station.

Becoming flustered under cross-examination he accused Ashworth of trying to twist his story and the judge ordered the jury to ignore that statement.

Ernst initially said he wrote a statement and that his interview wasn't taped. When Ashworth showed him the transcription of his interview with Buffington and some inconsistencies with what he told Buffington and what he earlier said under oath, Ernst said Buffington got it wrong. He changed his story to say he spoke and Buffington took notes.

When Ashworth reminded him that he reviewed the transcript with Deputy Asst. County Attorney Carley Ahern before his testimony and agreed it was correct, Ernst replied that he "wasn't paying much attention and that it had been a long day."

After the state ended its case, and out of the earshot of the jury, the defense made a motion to dismiss it, arguing that Ahern hadn't presented enough evidence to substantiate the charges as defined by statute.

Judge James O'Neill denied the motion and the jury was brought back in.

Defense witnesses were Sherryland Park manager Fred Love and former park owner George Hast who both testified that none of the trailers were for sale nor had either of them placed any kinds of ad on line or anywhere else.

They both said there were no for sale signs although Corente said there were and Ernst said there weren't.

Hast testified that on the date of the alleged rape, Sherryland Park was under a purchase and sale agreement and any vacant trailers on the property were included in that agreement.

The trail resumes at 1:30 p.m. Monday when O'Neill told the jury he expects the defense to finish and for both sides to give closing arguments.

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 June 2014 12:11

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Laconia school psychologist receives ‘Excellence in Education’ award

LACONIA — Christina Flanders, a school psychologist with the Laconia School District, has earned herself a New Hampshire Excellence in Education Award — or "ED" ie — as the school psychologist of the year. The award will be presented this evening at the 21st annual awards ceremony at the Center of New Hampshire in Manchester.

Flanders, who grew up in the Lakes Region, has worked in the city's elementary schools for the past nine years and this year added Laconia High School to her responsibilities. She said that the New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists solicited nominations and school Superintendent Terri Forsten put her name forward.

"I'm very proud and excited to have been selected," she said.

Flanders is in the process of completing her docotoral degree in school psychology at the University of Southern Maine and recently joined the adjunct faculty of Plymouth State University. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sanbornton.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 11:41

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School district responds to threats scrawled on bathroom wall

LACONIA — For the past week, school officials and police officers have been investigating two messages found on bathroom walls at the High School, which though somewhat unclear could be taken to threaten a shooting at the school on Tuesday, June 10.

In a formal statement issued yesterday, school Superintendent Terri Forsten said that the investigation will continue and meanwhile school will be open on Tuesday, June 10 with "an increased police presence throughout the school day at Laconia High School." Twice in her statement she said that neither school nor police officials considered the messages to represent a "credible" threat to the safety of students, teachers or staff.

Forsten said that the first message was discovered on Friday, May 30 and the second on Wednesday, June 4. Speaking yesterday, she described the first message as "cryptic, but the second as "more clear," adding that it referred specifically to June 10.

Students are scheduled to be taking final exams on that date.

Captain Matt Canfield of the Laconia Police said while the first message was "small" and not easily legible the second was "much larger and more noticeable."

Canfield said that police have reviewed video footage as well as spoken to students and teachers in the course of their ongoing investigation. He stressed that when the person or persons responsible are identified appropriate criminal charges will be filed. In the meantime, he said that the police presence will be increased at all the school, but particularly Laconia High School on Tuesday. "We will be very visible," he said.

Forsten said that recently a similar threat was made at Exeter High School and, on comparing notes with her counterpart there, became more comfortable with the situation. She said that for her the most difficult task was "rocking everybody's boat" by advising the community of the threatening messages.

"We're going to be safe. We're going to be fine," she said.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 11:54

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Laconia man indicted on three felony drug charges

LACONIA — A Belknap County grand jury has indicted a Meredith Center Road man for three felony drug charges relating to a incident where he was found slumped over in his car while in the downtowon parking garage.

On April 7, 2014, police said at 11:30 a.m. an officer found Kory MacDonald, 28, slumped while sitting in a white Subaru with what was allegedly heroin in his lap and a large knife in the center console.

When he exited the car, the officer allegedly found a needle in the front seat.

MacDonald has been indicted for one count of possession of heroin, one count of falsifying physical evidence for attempting to hid a spoon, a lighter, and a while baggy while being questioned by police, and for one count of being a felon in possession of a deadly weapon.

MacDonald is being held on $20,000 cash bail imposed by 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll following his appearance there the day after his arrest.

An indictment is not indicative of guilt or innocence but a consensus by an independent grand jury that enough evidence exists to warrant a trial.

MacDonald is also currently on parole for a 2012 felony drug conviction. He served one year of a two year sentence.

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 June 2014 12:31

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