Man who sold fentanyl to spend 3 1/2 years in jail (227)

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A man who sold fentanyl in Laconia and later nearly ran over a Laconia Police officer in a snowstorm will spend a minimum of 3 ½ years in the New Hampshire State Prison.

Joshua Levesque, 26, of 12 Country Side Circle in Belmont pleaded guilty to four separate charges in Belknap County Superior Court Thursday that include sales of fentanyl, reckless conduct, three-strike rule for shoplifting, and possession of methamphetamine. A fifth charge of possession of fentanyl was dropped. He is credited with 176 days of pretrial confinement.

Levesque received a 2- to 5-year sentence for selling fentanyl and a 1 ½ to 6-year sentence for reckless conduct as it related to the Laconia Police officer. The sentences will be served consecutively, meaning when one ends, the other begins.

Additionally, Levesque was sentenced to serve 3 to 6 years, all suspended for the three-strike theft conviction, and 3 to 6 years for possession of methamphetamine, of which was suspended.

In agreeing to plead guilty to the four charges, that took place over a 12-month period in 2016, the Belknap County Attorney agree to dropped seven other charges that related to one of the above four crimes.

Should Levesque committee another crime once released from prison, he could face a total of an additional six years of incarceration plus an additional maximum 7 ½ years that would be left on the sentences he will serve.

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Judge: Sufficient evidence in case of man involved in city standoff

By BEA LEWIS For The Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — A city man who refused police orders to come out of his home and ended up being tasered before being arrested on domestic violence-related complaints appeared in court on Thursday in hopes of having the charges dismissed.

James Cunningham, 60, is facing two counts of second-degree domestic violence assault. He is also charged with felony criminal threatening as well as misdemeanor counts of simple assault, criminal threatening, resisting arrest and marijuana possession.

Cunningham, of 223 Weirs Boulevard, was taken into custody on the late morning of Nov. 15, following a two-hour standoff with police.

The incident began as a possible hostage situation after a woman called 911 at 7:49 a.m. and reported that she had been assaulted several times during the night and wasn't allowed to leave the residence.

According to police, Cunningham threatened to kill the woman and hit her over the head with a pool cue with sufficient force to break the hardwood stick.

During an afternoon hearing in Belknap County Superior Court, defense attorney Scott Bratton said Cunningham has a right to a probable cause hearing.

Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, who presided, explained that procedures were changing as a result of the Felony First program. Previously, anyone charged with a felony-level crime was arraigned in the Circuit Court and a probable cause hearing automatically scheduled.

As the lower court lacked jurisdiction to resolve felony matters, the decision was made to move those cases directly to the Superior Court, saving time and avoiding duplication.

When a defendant is arrested for a felony, Nadeau explained, a judge has already reviewed an affidavit submitted by police detailing the evidence supporting the allegations. The judge then decides based on that information whether probable cause exists.

If a defendant requests a separate probable cause hearing, the state is pressed to show more of its evidence and their witnesses could face cross-examination by the defense.

The threshold determination is that it is more probable than not that a crime has been committed, and that the defendant committed it. If probable cause is found, a case then advances to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Under the Felony First protocol, Nadeau said, a probable cause hearing will typically only be granted if a defendant can show that there is a material defect in the affidavit.

Bratton argued that since police interviewed the alleged victim, they seized her phone. Bratton told the judge he had copies of the text messages recovered from the phone and said that she might like to read them.

Judge Nadeau said that if the text messages appear to suggest that the alleged victim is recanting, that is an issue of credibility for a jury to decide.

Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said Detective Sgt. Kevin Butler, who conducted a six-hour interview of the woman, was in the courtroom. The state has already turned over 67 pages of evidence to the defense, including a transcript of that interview. Having Butler testify during the hearing would be "duplicative" and would not
support the defense's efforts to have the charges thrown out.

The judge ruled from the bench that no probable cause hearing was needed at this stage of the proceedings as the affidavit had already established there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations.

Even if the alleged victim refuses to testify at trial, the state may be able to use the 911 tape as evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that calls to 911 are non-testimonial statements gathered in an emergency situation, and as such are admissible at trial.

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Prosecutor tells jury DNA will prove rape case

Incidents occurred in Barnstead and Alton

By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — The lawyer defending a man charged with the serial sexual abuse of a girl told the jury that that the allegations are "cringing, terrible," but urged them to keep an open mind suggesting that once the motives become clear "The cringe will go away."

George Colbath, 62, is accused of seven counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. He is alleged to have repeatedly engaged in a variety of sex acts with the girl when she was under age 18, between Sept. 1, 2014, and Jan. 30, 2016, in Barnstead and Alton.

As Colbath is facing similar allegations involving the same girl in Nottingham, the case now being heard in Belknap County Superior Court, is being prosecuted by the Rockingham County Attorney's Office.

Prosecutor Annaliese Wolf warned the jury that the testimony they would hear would be both graphic and emotional. DNA evidence found on the comforter taken from the girl's bed, she said, links Colbath to
the crimes.

"This is more than a 'he said, she said' case. The evidence will include DNA and statements by the defendant that will back up what the witnesses will say on the stand," Wolf said.

In his own opening statement to the jury, defense attorney Mark Sisti said the allegations were made when the complaining witness and Colbath were at odds.

"Was he over protective at times? Yes. Were there arguments at times? Yes, there were. Were there concerns that she would be hurt by others? Yes. And was there discipline if she didn't do her chores with the horses? Yes, there was," Sisti said.

He urged the jury to use the lens of "beyond a reasonable doubt" when considering the evidence. When the girl underwent a physical examination by a pediatric nurse there were no signs of sexual abuse.

"Just because they come before you and say (the negative examination) doesn't mean it didn't happen; it doesn't mean it did, either," Sisti said. "The DNA is a mess full of the potential for cross contamination. There is no way to know when fluids got on that blanket."

The prosecutor told the jury, testimony would show that after the girl disclosed the abuse and confronted Colbath in front of a witness, that he denied the allegations. In response, the girl pulled a sex aid from beneath her pillow and announced that Colbath had used it on her.

Colbath stormed from the house and said he was going to kill himself, according to the prosecutor.

Two sexual devices were seized by police and DNA testing showed one was linked to both the girl and Colbath. The second contained DNA from three individuals.

"You heard from the prosecutor herself – there is evidence of three people on some of these objects. I'm not going to ask you to speculate, but it has to be clear and convincing evidence," Sisti said.

In laying out her own road map of the evidence for the jury, the prosecutor said after the girl disclosed the allegations and Colbath threatened to harm himself, Barnstead police were called.

When Colbath was pulled over, driving his pickup truck, he'd jury-rigged the exhaust to vent into the cab, was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatment.

While Colbath's girlfriend witnessed the girl accuse him and supported her at the time, the prosecutor said, following his arrest the defendant remained jailed for quite some time before he was able to make bail. Colbath repeatedly called the woman and she was one of only two people to visit him while he remained held. When he made bail, the couple were married in April.

The state claims that Colbath coerced the girl into submitting to his advances by taking her cell phone, refusing to let her drive and threatening to sell her horses.

The defense however, painted Colbath as a man who felt sorry for the girl and bought her horses in an effort to help her recover from the 2009 death of her mother, which she witnessed at age 10, and the death of her maternal grandmother just 13 months later.

Sisti said Colbath is anxious to testify.

"He's fed up. Enough is enough. Is he angry? I don't know what the emotion is. I think it's more devastation," Sisti said, as Colbath wiped away tears. "You'd rather be accused of murder that sexually abusing someone you cared for."

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George Colbath, foreground, and co-prosecutor John Mara, left, listen to testimony in Belknap County Superior Court on Tuesday. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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George Colbath, foreground and his defense attorney Mark Sisti listen to testimony during the first day of Colbath's sex assault trial that started Tuesday in Belknap County Superior Court. (Bea Lewis/For The Laconia Daily Sun)

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