By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A former Belknap County Sheriff's deputy was arraigned yesterday afternoon for multiple sexual offenses allegedly committed against inmates who were in his custody when they were being transported by him from various jails and courtrooms in Belknap and Merrimack County.
Ernest Justin Blanchette, 36, is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail or $400,000 corporate-surety bail in a undisclosed corrections facility. Following his bail hearing, he left the Belknap County Court House around 3:50 p.m. yesterday in the custody of two Grafton County Sheriff's Department deputies wearing full arm and leg chains and shackles.
Blanchette had previously been indicted in October of 2015 by a Hillsborough County North grand jury for allegedly raping a woman in an abandoned house in Bedford while he was transporting her between the Belknap County House of Corrections and the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Goffstown in early July.
Blanchette faces eight additional aggravated felonious sexual assault charges and one felonious sexual assault charge in five separate indictments, including three involving the alleged female victim in the Bedford case. He faces one charge of coercing a second woman into having intercourse in an unnamed cemetery in Laconia.
The three other indictments include five separate charges of allegedly coercing other inmates into having sexual contact with each other while he watched. In two instances, the state alleges he gave the handcuff keys to one inmate so he or she could perform sexual acts on the other.
In court yesterday, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen asked for a total of $500,000 cash-only bail, or $100,000 for each of the five cases.
She noted that state law specifically states that consent is not a defense in the case of custodial rape, although she understands it has been raised as a defense in the Bedford case.
N.H. RSA 632-A:2(n)(1) states that a rape is aggravated "when the actor has direct supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim by virtue of the victim being incarcerated in a correctional institution, the secure psychiatric unit, or juvenile detention facility where the actor is employed..."
She said she believes Blanchette to be a danger to his community and a flight risk. She noted that each alleged crime occurred while he was on duty as a sheriff deputy and involved inmates who are vulnerable to coercion by their captor.
"He breached that trust," she told the court.
Guldbrandsen also asked the court for a source of funds hearing should he post bail. She said he is in the middle of a contentious divorce and is the subject of a domestic violence order that alleges he drove his car recklessly near his wife and two children.
When Judge James O'Neill asked her why she felt there was a need for a source of funds investigation when there are no drug charges, Guldbrandsen said that some of the alleged victims said he gave them cigarettes and marijuana in exchange for sexual favors and that some drug paraphernalia was found in his cruiser when it was taken from him at the onset of the first investigation.
The judge also wanted to know if he violated any of the domestic violence order prohibitions and Guldbrandsen said he had not.
During her bail argument, Blanchette at times turned beet red and often shook his head from side to side as if to say no. For the most part, he stared straight ahead or down at his hands during the bail arguments.
Blanchette's attorney, Brad Davis, said he and his client were taken by "complete surprise" by the new indictments.
Davis argued Blanchette should be released on the same $5,000 cash posted by his parents for his release on the Bedford charge. He agreed with Guldbrandsen's requests that Blanchette would not possess any guns or firearms, would consume no alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, would stay away from all his alleged victims and his wife, would submit to bail supervision by the Belknap County Restorative Justice Department and would willingly undergo random drug testing. He also agreed to sign a waiver of extradition.
Davis said that because of the divorce proceedings, Blanchette has no assets that he could readily access. He said Guldbrandsen's request for "a half a million dollars" was punitive, or meant to punish, and that his client is not a flight risk or a danger to anyone.
Davis said Blanchette is completely aware of the first investigation and did not flee during that time. He said he has committed no violations of the protective order against his wife and was actually in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division to request additional access to his two children when he was taken into custody.
He said Blanchette was seeing a licensed alcohol drug abuse counselor voluntarily because he feared he would turn to alcohol or drugs because of all of the stress in his life, not because he had an existing problem. Davis noted that Blanchette is living in a different part of the state and is also seeking assistance and guidance from a pastor in his church.
Davis said that Blanchette is fully employed and would likely lose his job if he were to be held in jail pending trial, making him unable to pay his child support.
After a 10-minute recess in which there wasn't a sound in the courtroom, O'Neill returned and ordered $25,000 cash only or $100,000 corporate surety on each of the counts involving new victims. He said on the charges involving the alleged Bedford victim, the $5,000 cash bail already posted would suffice.
O'Neill ordered the standard conditions requested and agreed to by Davis but declined to order a source-of-funds hearing should the cash be posted. He added the condition that under no circumstances was Blanchette to leave the state and asked for an additional waiver of extradition.
The maximum penalty for nine of the total of 10 charges where aggravation is listed is a maximum of 20 years in jail with the minimum to be no more than half of the maximum.
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