Second rape trial for former deputy delayed


LACONIA — A second criminal trial for a former Belknap County Deputy Sheriff convicted of raping a female inmate while taking her from the courthouse to state prison is likely stalled until at least next summer.
Ernest "Justin" Blanchette, 36, formerly of Franklin, is now serving a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.
Nine other counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault alleging similar conduct with other inmates he was tasked with transporting, remain pending in Belknap County Superior Court.
During a Monday morning hearing to discuss the status of those charges, defense attorney Brad Davis, who appealed the conviction to the New Hampshire Supreme Court this summer, said he must submit his brief by Nov. 7. The Attorney General's Office has until Jan. 6 to file its response. Oral arguments before the justices will then be scheduled.
"I'm concerned about the length of the delay from the victims' perspective," Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen told the judge.
The prosecutor said the high court may not issue an opinion in the case until next summer.
Judge James D. O'Neill III cited his May order in the case in which he ruled that if an appeal was filed, the high court's opinion would settle the defense motion seeking to dismiss the Belknap charges.
In his notice of appeal, Davis challenged the decision by the judge who presiding over Blanchette's trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court. Judge Gilliam Abramson held that Blanchette was "employed" by the New Hampshire State Prison for Women to carry out the task of transport, and that he had direct supervisory and disciplinary authority over the victim by virtue of her status as an inmate.
Davis asserts that state law clearly applies to "correctional officers," only and that Blanchette was a deputy sheriff. The core element of the appeal is whether Judge Abramson's ruling amounts to "reversible error" – a legal mistake at the trial court level which is so significant that without it, the outcome may have been different and is grounds for the appellate court to reserve the conviction.
Judge O'Neill ordered that another status conference be scheduled within 90 days and that the case be returned to the docket to be scheduled for trial at that time.
In July, a woman who claims she was among the inmates victimized by Blanchette, filed a civil suit naming both the disgraced deputy and Belknap County as defendants.
Using the name Jane Doe to shield her identity, the woman charges that the county was negligent in supervising Blanchette and makes claims for intentional infliction of emotion distress against both defendants. She claimed her rights were violated because Blanchette raped her while he was on duty, "acting under the color of law."

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Judge rules against telling jury of earlier alleged sex assaults in rape case


LACONIA — The jury hearing evidence in the sexual assault trial of a Belmont man won't get to hear testimony that the complaining witness allegedly told others about the abuse before she was arrested for stealing from the defendant.
Judge James D. O'Neill III ruled from the bench on Monday to uphold his earlier decision that such testimony amounts to hearsay and can not be substantiated, making it inadmissible.
The prosecutor argued such testimony would clearly rebut the defense's theory that the woman had a motive to lie to dodge being imprisoned for stealing jewelry and coins from Steven Price.
Price, 66, is charged with knowingly committing a pattern of sexual assault against the alleged victim between June 14, 1996, and June 13, 2000, over a period of more than two months, but less than five years when she was older than 13 but younger than 16.
Assistant Strafford County Attorney Alysia Cassotis, who is prosecuting the case, said the testimony should be allowed because the crux of the defense "is an absolute reliance on a motive to lie."
Allowing the jury to hear from witnesses who would testify that the alleged victim told them about engaging in sex with Price when she was still a minor, would also explain the reason for the delay in her disclosure.
The prosecutor maintained that the New Hampshire Supreme Court has recognized why victims of sexual assault put off telling anyone they have been abused. In this case, the woman testified that she loved the defendant and that he had also been caring for her son.
In asking the judge to rethink his earlier ruling barring the admission of such testimony, the prosecutor said that the alleged victim's best friend would testify at about age 15 she disclosed that she and Price had been having sex for the past several years.
Based on the defense's theory that the woman invented the accusations to avoid being prosecuted for felony theft, the testimony is necessary to allow the jury to fully access why the alleged disclosures were so late, Cassotis said.
Defense attorney Jim Moir urged the judge to uphold his earlier ruling, arguing the state's request was being made too late as the alleged victim had already testified. The statements the prosecutor wanted to introduce were made out of court, Moir asserted, and as such are hearsay and not admissible.
The prosecutor argued that to rebut the impression created by the defense that the complaining witnesses' testimony was a recent fabrication, evidence that she told the same story before should be admissible, as a prior consistent statement is not hearsay.
The state is predicting that it could wrap up its case tomorrow.

10-25 Steve Price

Steven Price, 66, of Belmont, is on trial in Belknap County Superior Court, charged with having a sexual relationship with a minor girl. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Teenage runaway found in Plymouth, reunited with family

PLYMOUTH — A 15-year-old who ran away from his home in Dorchester Oct. 15 was found by Plymouth police on Monday at noon.

According to a press release, Zander Stockwell was staying in a camper at a home in Plymouth and was found around noon. He was taken into custody and reunited with his family.

– Ginger Kozlowski

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