Supreme Court sides with pre-indictment 'discovery' of evidence rights in Belmont axe murders case

CONCORD — The N.H. Supreme Court ruled late last month that criminal defense attorneys are entitled to review the state's case against their clients through a process called discovery before their client is indicted.

The case came to the forefront in the aftermath of the double ax murder of Priscilla and Timothy Carter in their home in Belmont sometime on May 23 or May 24, 2013.

Police arrested Shawn Carter, 33, who was Priscilla's son and Timothy's brother, around 2 p.m. on May 24 — about three hours after Belmont police found the bodies after going to the home for a well-being check.

Carter was initially charged with one count of driving after revocation and was held in the Belknap County House of Corrections on $200 cash bail. He was either unwilling or unable to post the bail.

On July 9, 2013, the state formally charged Carter with four counts of second-degree homicide — with two counts for each victim. The case was bound over from the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division to the Belknap County Superior Court however Carter was not indicted by a grand jury until October.

Other than the affidavits that were made available to Carter's defense team and the public during Carter's probable cause trial on August 6, 2013, with no indictment, his team had no evidence.

In September of 2013, Carter's defense team filed a motion with Judge James O'Neill requesting that he order the discovery (evidence) be provided them. They argued that the state legislature provides for pre-indictment discovery according to RSA 604:1-a (2001).

O'Neill refused, agreeing with N.H. Senior Assistant General Jeff Strelzin that court rules don't allow for pre-indictment discovery and that the state law is inconsistent with more recent internal court rules.

Upon request, O'Neill did allow the defense team to file an interlocutory appeal (an appeal to the Supreme Court while a case is still pending).

The justices unanimously agreed that the intent of the legislature was to allow pre-indictment discovery and that the recourse was to have the legislature change the law.

Carter was indicted by a Belknap County grand jury in October of 2013 and his case is ongoing. Presumably, his defense team has the discovery it was seeking.

Local criminal attorney Matt Lahey, who has no involvement in the Carter matter, said the Supreme Court ruling is critical to defense lawyers — especially those representing clients in serious cases with lots of physical evidence.

He also said that in his experience, prosecutors are inconsistent with discovery.

"Sometimes I get it right away without even asking and sometimes I have to wait until after the indictment," he said. "Now it appears there will be some consistency."

Sheldon Morgan will retire as Gilford highway chief at the end of the year

GILFORD — Long-time Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan has announced his retirement and last night the selectmen, regretfully, accepted his resignation, effective near the end of the year.

Morgan has worked for the town of Gilford for 42 years and according to selectmen John O'Brien, knows where every pipe and ditch in the town is.

Selectmen have been advertising the position and decided last night that they will form a hiring committee.

Tentative members are Selectmen Richard "Rags" Grenier, former Selectman Kevin Hayes and Town Administrator Scott Dunn.

Selectman Gus Benevides asked Highway Superintendent Brian DeNutte if he thought it would be beneficial to have a member of the department serve on the committee.

DeNutte said he really didn't know but when asked directly, said he would serve if that was what selectmen wanted.

Dunn said there are two schools of thought about having someone serve on a committee that would be hiring his or her own boss.

Board members agreed they didn't need to make a decision immediately as the closing date for applications isn't until December 19.

Morgan's last day is December 27.

In other business, Dunn told selectmen that after meeting with two separate law firms, he has been advised that the town should remove itself from any regulation of adult entertainment businesses except for matters of life-safety and zoning.

Dunn noted that he has been told that so-called adult entertainment is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as freedom of expression.

The town is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by the owner of the former Kings Grant Inn because of what he says was the town's violation of his civil rights.

Will Drew had leased his business to a company that called itself Mardi Gras North that was the target of a N.H. Drug Task Force raid in October of 2011.

Although Drew had nothing to do with the operation of the Mardi Gras, he claims in a suit filed in U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire that when he went to reopen his business in 2012 and 2013, the town sullied his reputation by making him answer a series of questions regarding drugs and alcohol regulations before it gave him permission to reopen his club.

Drew and his business partner Tom Lyons reopened the adult venue calling it the Lakes Region Cafe and Tavern over the course of the summer, however it was shut down by the Fire Department about three weeks ago because of some fire safety issues.

Drew has declined to comment about the recent closure other than to say that he is working with Fire Department officials to address the issues.

Selectmen tabled further action on the town's entertainment ordinance because Dunn said he has a meeting scheduled today with one group of attorneys. He said he would report back to selectmen on December 19 at their next regular meeting.

148-year-old marble-faced clock now up and running again on wall at Sanbornton town offices

SANBORTON — For about as many years as anyone can remember, an old marble-faced clock without hands hung on the wall next to the finance director's desk in the town offices.

A bag of spare parts, including the hands, were in a plastic bag somewhere in a desk drawer.

As of last night, the clock is now hanging behind the selectman's table in the meeting room — completely restored by hobby clock repairer Jesse Lacasse of Tilton.

While repairing the clock and researching its origins, Lacasse learned the clock was made by Robert Stuart Johnson and Richard Davis Johnson at their clock shop near Turkey Bridge in Sanbornton.

The Johnson brothers built the clock specifically for the town of Sanbornton in 1866 in The Old Clock Shop built by their father Simon in an area of town Selectman Chair Karen Ober said was a small village in the 1800s.

Lacasse said Richard Johnson, who was also a selectman, noted he was paid $10 to build the clock and worked on it for eight days.

As part of the research, the town was able to find a picture of Richard Johnson taken in 1905 at his workshop. An older man in his 70s with white hair, a white beard and wearing small wire-framed glasses, the black and white picture shows him working at a work bench filled with clock pieces and using the natural light from a window in his shop to see.

Lacasse, who, along with his wife Nikki, owns a shop in Tilton called The Prim Home, said working on old clocks has always been one of his favorite hobbies.

He said he heard about Sanbornton's clock from resident Rachael Swain, who happened to stop by his store one day.

Lacasse said he went to the town offices, spoke with Town Administrator Bob Veloski, and asked if he could fix the clock.

When asked what he did to repair it, Lacasse said, "mostly just a good cleaning, some adjustments, and some minor parts."
He said he reversed a few repairs that someone else had tried to make and replaced the glass door that was chipped. He said he used old glass so it is wavy like the original glass was.

He said clock door had been painted a glossy white and he stripped down the wood and restored it to its original color.

The one thing Lacasse was unable to fix was the original mercury-filled pendulum. He said mercury pendulums were used to compensate for humidity during the summer months when clock makers realized their clocks lost time in the summer.

As of last night, the Sanbornton clock is back on the wall. Lacasse said he still needs to fine-turn some of the timing of the pendulum but says he's fairly confident it will keep time once he makes the final tweaks.

School board members concerned with format of state's new standardized test program

LACONIA — Members of the School Board got a look at a sample of what the new standardized Smarter Balanced assessment tests that students will be taking for the first time in the spring of 2015 are like on Tuesday night and were shocked and concerned by what they saw.
The tests will do away with pencil and paper and utilize computer adaptive technology according to Kirk Beitler, assistant superintendent, who told the board that the test will replace the NECAP for math and English and is still being developed.
He explained that computer adaptive testing adjusts to a student's ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers, providing more accurate measurement of student achievement, particularly for high and low-performing students.
''The questions get harder as they go along,'' said Beitler, who said that grades 3-8 and grade 11 in Laconia took part in a field test of the new assessment program this spring but that no scores have been made available to assess how well the students performed on those tests.
A sample of what a fourth grade math test will entail was displayed Tuesday night for the board members, whose immediate reaction was one of befuddlement, as they contemplated the different problem solving skills which students will need to have in order to take the test and how difficult the program interface appeared to be.
Mike Persson said that he would need a pencil and paper to make the math calculations needed and didn't see any calculating tool or notepad within the test program which students could use.
''It's clunky, like a 10-year-old type of display. It's not how a good interface works,'' added board member Scott Vachon, who questioned whether the students would have the time needed to complete the tests.

Beitler said students would have as much time as needed to complete the tests, which would be given over several days.
''Has the state (school) board taken these tests? What are their reactions?'' asked Mal Murray, who said that in order for students to perform well on the tests their classroom lessons will have to be tailored to the same format used on the tests and that students will need a lot of practice in order to understand how to complete the tests.
Beitler said that the tests have proven more difficult than expected according to many educators, some of whom say it will take several years for students to adapt to the tests.
Persson asked what the School District would be doing with its science testing, noting that NECAP is still being used, and was critical of the most recent results for local students.
''Only 3 percent of our kids were proficient with distinction in science. That's five out of 150 students at the grade 11 level. That tells us we're not doing something right,'' said Persson.
Board Chairman Joe Cormier said that improving science test performance is ''not a quick process but we're moving in the right direction.''
Vachon said the district needed higher standards, as does the whole country, when it comes to science.
''If we're going to compete globally we've got to get better in science. We're not going to be a creative economy and will go from leading to trailing as an economic power. Our economy is changing because we're not keeping up,'' added Vachon.