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Man facing 3 charges of arson in Laconia wants separate trial for each

LACONIA — The defense attorney for a former Gilmanton man charged with three counts of arson is objecting to consolidating all three allegations into one trial because it could be confusing to the jury and is potentially prejudicial to his client.

Jason Clairmont, 36, who is represented by attorney John Bresaw, says the three arson charges he faces are three separate incidents, in three separate locations with three separate complaining witnesses.

Bresaw said the state is seeking to consolidate the cases to "use the allegations as propensity evidence (and) to insinuate to the jury that because Mr. Clairmont committed the acts in one instance, he must have committed the acts as alleged in the other pending indictments."

Typically, consolidation is granted when charges arise from the same set of circumstances, the same or a similar investigation, and when the witnesses are the same. Consolidation is meant to save time and money and is allowed when the evidence is brief, simple and unlikely to cause confusion to the jury.

Bresaw said the success of one indictment has no bearing on the success of the other and the cases should be tried separately.

Clairmont was indicted on April 24 for three counts of arson — one that occurred in a car parked near the Funky Monkey night club on Main Street between September 3 and 4, 2013 and two on January 25, 2015, a car fire on Academy Street and one that burned some lattice work on a house on Highland Street. All three cases are scheduled for the same trial of August 4.

On February 19, Clairmont appeared at a probable cause hearing in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division and after six hours of testimony that stretched over a two-week time span, Judge Jim Carroll ruled there was not enough probable cause to charge Clairmont with the Funky Monkey car fire in 2013. He also ruled that there was more than ample evidence presented to charge him with the two January 2014 fires.

During the same hearing, the state presented video tapes taken on by various surveillance cameras on January 25 that showed a man dressed in a white, hooded sweatshirt leaving the Funkey Monkey, walking down Academy Street and then by Young's Auto which is at the corner of South Main Street and Pine Street.

After his arrest, police affidavits said Clairmont told them that he may have accidentally dropped cigarette ashes into the car on Academy Street, through an open window, and that he may have tried to light a cigarette near the house on Highland Street.

Clairmont was detained on Highland Street by a Gilford Police officer who was patrolling in Laconia while city police were dealing with the car fire on Academy Street. He was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatment of a dog bite. He was arrested by Laconia Police a few days later.

Clairmont is being held in the Belknap County House of Corrections on $50,000 cash-only bail.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 11:18

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Lightning sparked fire that destroyed Gilmanton barn

GILMANTON — A two-alarm fire caused by a lightening strike destroyed a barn and its contents at 216 Burke Road in the Iron Works section of town Wednesday evening.

Fire Chief Joe Hempel said his crews were just coming out of the Town Hall after responding to an alarm when the call for the fire was reported.

He said when the first firefighters arrived, the barn was completely engulfed in flames. He said there were two horses inside but the homeowner heard the strike and smelled smoke. He said she was able to save the horses but not the rest of the barns contents.

"It was quite a concussive blast," said Hempel. "We heard it while we were at Town Hall."

Hempel said he called for a second alarm because the homeowners house was only about 20 feet away from the burning barn and there wasn't a lot of water available at the site. He also said it was down a fairly long driveway.

Radio transmissions heard over the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid radio continued to call for additional tankers to come to the Iron Works.

Hempel said the first firefighters who responded concentrated on saving the house while the second wave were able to bring the barn fire under control in about three hours.

He said the barn was filled with hay bales which continued to smolder and then flare up. He also said the homeowner's work shop was in the building and that he lost all of his tools and equipment.

Hempel said firefighters left the scene at 11 p.m. Wednesday but they yesterday morning and put more water on some of the still-smoking hay bales.

CAPTION (in news email) Firefighters work to extinguish hot spots at a fire site off Burke Road in Gilmanton Iron Works on Thursday. A two-alarm blaze started by a lightning strike destroyed a barn. (Photo courtesy of the Gilmanton Fire Department)

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 11:14

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Housing authority will no longer subsidize cable TV bills for its tenants; rates soar

LACONIA — Tenants of the Sunrise Towers and the Stafford House got a bit of bad financial news last month when they learned that the Laconia Housing Authority will end its contract with MetroCast for cable television service.

According to Housing Authority Director Dick Weaver, MetroCast has contracted with the LHA for residential cable service and the cable customers were billed by their landlord at a reduced rate.

Beginning August 1, each customer will be contracting directly with MetroCast and will be paying standard cable fares.

One woman said her bill for basic expanded service will go from $20 per month to to $76 per month. She said she knows about 100 tenants who are on a fixed income that will no longer be able to afford cable.

"Some of these people are bed-ridden and disabled and live for watching television," she said.

A review of the MetroCast website, showed basic cable service that includes all four major networks and the stations at the lower end of the number spectrum costs $35.95 monthly. Basic "expanded" service — the service most residents are receiving — costs $76.95 per month.

Weaver said the reason for the change is that all cable subscribers need certain equipment to watch MetroCast and the cost of the equipment is expensive. He said the housing authority is not in a financial position to assume responsibility for all of the digital converter boxes and the other equipment needed for cable service.

He said housing authority councilors have been working with some of the residents about the decision to have them contract directly with MetroCast for their cable service and a MetroCast customer service representative will be holding an information session for residents of the Sunrise Towers in the Community Room on Tuesday afternoon.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 11:09

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Pastor who suffered devastating loss of 4 daughters in fire never lost his faith

GILMANTON — A memorial service will be held Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the Living Word Assembly of God Church on Old Stage Road for Millie Stevens, the mother of 17 children who died on June 4 of this year in Jacksonville, Florida and was lovingly known as ''Shoebox Millie'' by her friends and family.
Her husband, Pastor Sherman Stevens, who founded and helped build the church building where the memorial service will be held, says that she got the Shoebox tag because when she was born she only weighed two pounds and would be placed in a shoebox by her parents and kept warm on the end of the open door of a wood stove oven.
Stevens says that the service will feature remembrances of his wife by those who knew her from the time when he and she first arrived in town in the early 1960s and they established the Evangelical Baptist Fellowship, a popular church which drew members from many nearby communities, including Laconia and at one time had 300 showing up for Sunday School .
''I remember digging the cellar hole and working when the foundation was poured,'' Stevens, who would later go on to start churches in Pittsfield, Mass., and in Athens, Georgia.
He said that he first met Millie in South Paris, Maine, where they both grew up, when he had gone through the school lunch line in high school and was walking with his tray, looking for a place to sit, when she said ''You can sit with me.''
It was the start of a relationship which went over for over 66 years, including more than 63 years of married life and saw them involved in ministries in such remote places Gayuna and Ecuador in South America as well as eight missionary visits to Russia in the 1990s to churches founded by one their sons, who was involved in the underground church movement there prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He said that his wife, also known as ''Mother Millie'', for the loving care that she provided to all who knew her and that the couple had 46 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Much of what they accomplished together came after the devastating loss of four of their daughters, three of whom were teenagers and one who was a little over a year old, in a explosion and fire at their farmhouse home in Gilmanton on Sunday, June 29, 1969.
Stevens describes what happened that night in a widely circulated Christian testimony, entitled ''When There's No Hope'' which has been translated into at least a dozen languages.
''About four a.m. we were jolted from sleep by an explosion that rocked the foundation of our farm house. As we opened our bedroom door we were faced with a roaring inferno. It was impossible to reach little Hope, who was just outside our bedroom door. Millie snatched Grace from the crib in our room and we went up the old stairs that led to the attic. We passed through a small opening over the fire and found our way to the back stairs. The door at the foot of the stairs opened toward us and was locked from the other side. We were hopelessly trapped.

''Kevin, our 16-year- old son, had already led Peter, Carl, Andy, Tim, Faith, and Jesse outside the burning building. Above the roar of the fire, he somehow heard our cry. Leaving Peter in charge of those on the lawn, he made his fourth trip into the raging inferno, unlocked the door and led us to safety.

''Immediately, we began to count the children. Mike, the oldest, was away for the night. That left twelve at home. Only eight were accounted for: Vicki, Bonny, Debbie and Hope were still inside the house.

''A ladder from the barn was used to try and enter the girl's window on the second floor. The heat and smoke drove us back again and again. Soon the fire department arrived and began rescue operations. The great intensity of the fire made it impossible to save the lives of our girls.

''It is my honest prayer that you will never stand beside a burning building with the realization that members of your family have left this life for the life hereafter. It is my hope that you never have to watch as everything you own goes up in flames. Believe me, it is the most hopeless feeling that you can ever experience.''
The entire family, wearing clothes donated by their neighbors, were at church several hours after the fire and Pastor Stevens told the assembled congregation that despite the loss, his faith was unshaken. ''I am as sure that God is still God as I have ever been. If I didn't believe that I would nail the door of this church shut and never enter it again.''
He says that ''four of our girls went home to heaven that Sunday morning'' and that it was the love of Christ and the grace of God that held his family together and flooded their hearts with peace, enabling them to withstand the trial brought on by the deaths of the four girls.
Stevens says he is intensely proud of his children and the careers in law enforcement, nursing and the ministry which they have created for themselves and that one of his great joys is family reunions, at which he gets to see them and their children and grandchildren and is looking forward to being reunited with former members of his congregation at Sunday's memorial service, where those who knew his wife will get to express in their own words what she meant to them.


Pastor Sherman Stevens kneels next to the graves of four of his daughters who died in a fire 45 years ago in Gilmanton Iron Works. A memorial service is planned Sunday at the Living Word Assembly of God Church on Old Stage Road for Steven's wife, Millie, mother of 17, who died last month and whose ashes will be interred next to her daughters at the family grave site. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 10:52

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