By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
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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