By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning approved a $5,500 grant request to pay for travel and and expert witness fees for a Pennsylvania doctor to come to Laconia to testify in the trial of a man alleged to have sold fentanyl-laced heroin that caused the death of 21-year-old Seth Tilton-Fogg.
Brian Watson, 51, formerly of Northfield, is charged with selling the heroin/fentanyl to Tilton-Fogg in early April of 2015. His trial had been scheduled to start this week in Belknap County Superior Court, but has been postponed until Sept. 12.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen told commissioners that the toxicologist is one of the key witnesses in the trial. She said that the state forensic laboratory has subcontracted with NMS Labs in Pennsylvania for the analysis and that the New Hampshire medical examiner's office ruled that the death was caused by fentanyl, based on the report from NMS Labs.
She said that the county is seeking a $5,500 grant from the New Hampshire Department of Justice to pay for the expert witness fees, which call for NMS to be paid $175 an hour for travel time, estimated at a total of 11 hours, as well as $350 an hour for court time, estimated at four-and-a-half hours.
Guldbrandsen said she is not happy with a process in which the state hires an out-of-state firm to handle toxicology analysis and wondered why the state doesn't hire its own toxicologist.
She said that as there were not enough funds in her expert witness budget to pay the fees being sought, she talked with the Attorney General's office and was told that grant funds were available to cover the costs of expert witness testimony.
Watson's attorney, Mark Sisti, has asked the court to not let the jury hear the toxicology evidence from this Pennsylvania lab because the doctor interviewed by the Belknap County assistant county prosecutor was not the person who performed the tests.
Sisti said Dr. Daniel Isenschmid didn't oversee the test, didn't conduct the tests, didn't observe the individuals who conducted the tests and had no personal knowledge of any of people who did.
The commissioners unanimously approved the request, which will also require approval from the Belknap County Delegation's Executive Committee.