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Jury finds Gardner not guilty of Tilton sex crime against disabled man

LACONIA — After a five day trial, a jury of four men and eight women took two hours yesterday to determine a former Tilton man was not guilty of rape and indecent exposure.

Thomas Gardner, 58, fought back tears as he spoke with his attorney Amy Ashworth following the verdict. Gardner did not want to speak to the media.

"This is the right result of the case,"Ashworth said. "He is overwhelmed with emotion. I'm overwhelmed with emotion. It's been a long ride."

Gardner had been accused of having oral sex with a 22-year-old disabled man who he had known since the man was 5-years-old. The man's mother, who testified for the prosecution, said that Gardner was like a father to her son and often took him for rides to local stores, bought him treats, and cared for him when she was in school or sick.

On the Thursday in question, January 17, 2013, Gardner had taken the man to his home because the mother was ill. He took the man for a ride in his Volkswagen to a spot atop School Street in Sherryland (mobile home) Park to see if their Sanborn Road house was visible after a recent logging operation.

While at the park Gardner and his ward encountered two men — Mark Corente and Joseph Ernst — who accused the Gardner of engaging in fellatio with what they said was a child with dark hair.

They both testified that they were there looking at trailers they had seen advertized online.

The accusation triggered a police investigation that was conducted by two Tilton Police detectives — former Det. Crp. Matthew Dawson and Det. Nathan Buffington. Buffington was the only Tilton Police officer to testify.

Dawson evaded under oath testimony in the case by evoking his Fifth Amendment right to protect himself from self incrimination with regard to unrelated police matter.

Buffington's role in the investigation was limited to two interviews with Gardner's accusers in the police station and at Sherryland Park and one visit to a Belmont repair shop to check his car for bodily fluids. The tests were negative.

The state's other witnesses were mostly medical professionals who described the victim as restless, inattentive and small in stature. They testified he had a seizure disorder as well as bad feet and scoliosis of the spine.

Gardner's defense team called two witnesses — the former owner of Sherryland Park and his park manager who testified that there were never any trailers advertised for sale which directly contradicted what Ernst and Corente told the jury.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 11:34

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No incidents as LHS operates under heightened security

LACONIA — Following the discovery of messages scrawled on bathroom walls last week that spoke of a shooting at Laconia High School on June 10, final examinations were held yesterday without incident amid an increased police presence and under tight security measures.

Only one entrance to the building was open. The entrance facing Union Avenue way was cordoned off with police tape and all doors were locked. Students were instructed not to carry backpacks to school and asked to empty their pockets and open their purses on entering the building.

Teachers and administrators escorted students to their classrooms and, when necessary, to the restroom. Lunch was served to everyone in the cafeteria at the same time and the building was cleared by 2 p.m.

Tuesday was a final exam day for freshman, sophomores and juniors. The senior class has already graduated.

Beyond confirming that the school building and property were secured for the day and an unspecified number of police were deployed at all the schools, Police Chief Chris Adams said that "we wanted to make staff, parents and students safe and everything has run smoothly." He said a police presence will be maintained at the city's schools throughout the week.

Last week two messages were found at the High School, which though somewhat unclear could be taken to threaten a shooting at the school yesterday. School Superintendent Terri Forsten said that the first message was discovered on Friday, May 30 and the second on Wednesday, June 4. She described the first message as "cryptic, but the second as "more clear," adding that it referred specifically to June 10.
In a formal statement Forsten said that the messages were being investigated and meanwhile school would 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.
Captain Matt 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. The investigation remains ongoing.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 11:31

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Franklin woman arrested for cruelty to animals in Sanbornton

SANBORNTON — A Franklin woman has been charged with one count of cruelty to animals after police and inspector for the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received a report on an emaciated animal on Tower Hill Road.

Mariska Giunta, 57, of Lakeshore Drive in Franklin is free on $500 cash bail and has a court date of July 14 in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division.

Because of the poor condition of the horse, a veterinarian was called and the horse, that was over 30 year old, was euthanized on April 23.

The investigation revealed that the horse hadn't been seen by a veterinarian in three years and had not has his teeth floated – a process that vets use to file down teeth to enable them to bite and chew grain for nutrition.

The horse also had a heart murmur.

Police located the horse on the Giunta property on Tower Hill Road.

Mariska Giunta turned herself into Sanbornton Police on June 7.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 01:57

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Jury hears closing arguments in Tilton rape case

LACONIA — A superior court jury is expected to begin deliberations today in the case of a former Tilton man accused of having oral sex with a disabled man.

The case of Thomas Gardner, went to the jury after closing arguments Monday, capping a week-long trial in Belknap County Superior Court.

Gardner's lawyer told the jury that his client was being falsely accused of a crime by two career criminals whose purpose for being at Sherryland Park in Tilton on Jan. 17, 2013 was "no good."

"They were trespassing," defense attorney Wade Harwood said. "They were sneaking around. They had no right to be there and that's why they had a motive to lie."

Gardner, 57, is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of indecent exposure or lewdness.

Harwood emphasized for the jury the criminal record of Mark Corente – the man who initially called 9-1-1. He said he has two convictions for lying to police about a crime in and one for lying about his identity to get services from a hospital without paying for them.

He also tried to poke holes in the Tilton Police Department's investigation, saying that the one detective who testified really didn't do much of an investigation. Harwood said Det. Nathan Buffington's entire investigation — which included an interview with Corente, one with Joseph Ernst who was with Corente, and a visit to Sherryland Park — lasted about 15 minutes.

He noted that Buffington testified that he never checked Corente's criminal record nor did he ask why Ernst was on probation, even though Ernst told him he was.

Harwood pointed out what he said were inconsistencies between the stories the two men told as well as inconsistencies between what each man initially told police and what they testified to in court.

As to what Ersnt said he saw, Harwood took a chair and demonstrated that if he was standing outside the car like he said he was, then he never could have seen what he said he saw – a man with an erect penis receiving oral sex from what he thought was a boy.

He also noted for the jury that when he saw what he alleged, he made no effort to stop it, but only asked if Gardner knew anything about any trailers for sale.

Harwood also said that both Ernst's and Corente's testimony about seeing the trailers for sale on line was fabricated because both the former owner and his property manager said there were never any advertisements for trailers for sale. The owner testified that in January 2013 the entire park was subject to a purchase and sales agreement that included all of the empty trailers in it.

Deputy Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern told the jury that when all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together they would come determine Gardner was guilty.

Ahern said the two didn't know him and rather than make up a story, risked calling attention to themselves by reporting what the saw to the police.

As to some discrepancies in their testimonies, Ahern said, "They're probably not the smartest guys."

As to Corente, she reminded the jury that he "came before them as a felon" and likely his witnessing a sexual assault by someone he thought was a man upon a child led him to put aside his own past behavior.

She said they were both cooperative with the police.

Ahern also said that both of them described the alleged victim, and Corente said it's a face he will never forget. Although neither recalled he had a mustache, she said it wasn't a thick conventional mustache.

She said Gardner admitted he was there with the alleged victim.

"The defense would have you believe they concocted a story," Ahern said, noting they called the police immediately when it became practical.

She said Corente's and Ernst's stories about what they saw in the car would be different because Corente saw what he saw from the driver's seat, while Ernst got out of Corente's car and approached Gardner's vehicle.

As to the claim of indecent exposure, she said Gardner was exposed in a public place in the middle of the day.

"He put himself in that position," she said.

"The defendant did what he needed to do to gain (the alleged victim's) trust," she said.

"This was a horrible crime and I've given two witnesses to it," she said in closing.

The jury began deliberations at 3:45 p.m. and recessed shortly after that. Deliberations begin again at 9 a.m. today.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 01:36

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