Hate crime conviction upheld by Supreme Court

CONCORD — The N.H. Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a Belmont man who threatened two Wal-Mart employees in Tilton in 2010 because he thought they were Jewish.

Paul Costella was convicted after a jury trial in 2013 in the Belknap County Superior Court of two counts of criminal threatening and one count of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail — an extended term of punishment because of the N.H. hate crime statute.

The case began on November 29, 2010 when Costella went into the Walmart in Tilton for an oil change. While driving his car into the service bay, one of the victims noticed a photograph of Costella and his daughter standing in front of a red flag with a swastika. In the photo Costella and his daughter were performing a "Heil Hitler" salute.

The woman told Costella she could refuse service to someone with whom she was uncomfortable and Costella asked her if she was Jewish. She replied "what's it to you" or something like that and Costella told her that not enough Jews were killed during WWII. He also asked if she saw his "Jew killing gun" in the car.

The oil change was completed and a second employee returned Costella's car to him while the female victim processed his paper work. When she told him her uncle had been burned alive by the Nazis, he told her that he hoped "that Jew bastard" suffered when he died.

As he left, he said to no one in particular that he was going to his car to get the gun to kill the Jew bitch behind the counter.

When the store manager overheard the conversation he came over and Costella asked him if he was Jewish. The manager didn't respond and Costella said he was going to kill "both you Jews." He restated he had a "Jew killing gun."

The manger called police and Costella was charged with two counts of criminal threatening and disorderly conduct. The N.H. Belknap County Attorney decided to seek enhanced penalties under the hate crime statute and gave Costella notice.

Costella argued that Judge James O'Neill erred when he didn't dismiss the case as a hate crime because the state couldn't prove that either of the two victims were Jewish.

He argued that the hate crime statute (RSA 651:6, I(f)) was only applicable if the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions were motivated by their actual religion.

The court relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding a Wisconsin hate crime statute as one the singles out bias-inspired conduct because this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and social crime. The U.S. ruling said bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes and incite community unrest.

"The specific community here resulting from a hate crime flows from the defendant's bias-motivated actions, rather than the victim's actual status as a member of a protected class," wrote N.H. Supreme Court Associate Justice James Bassett in his opinion.

"Society is harmed by a bias-motivated crime regardless of whether the victim is, in fact, a member of the protected class the defendant has targeted," he continued.

The court also ruled it would be "absurd" for the state to conclusively prove any victim was a member of a specific protected class, asking rhetorically what evidence a jury would use to prove that a person was Jewish or Native American or of mixed race for example.

The court determined that the state had to prove only that Costella was sufficiently motivated to commit the crime because of his hostility toward what he perceived to be the victim's religion.

The four other N.H. Supreme Court justices concurred with the ruling.

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Make-believe coyotes doing their job in Meredith parks

MEREDITH — After standing sentinel in Hesky Park and Scenic Park for the past several weeks, mock coyotes have confirmed the adage of the Elizabethean poet John Lyly that "It is the blind goose that cometh to the fox's sermon."

With the parks littered with goose droppings, last month Town Manager Phil Warren proposed and the Board of Selectmen authorized purchasing faux coyotes to frighten the Canada geese away. Altogether the town bought a half-dozen coyotes at $70 apiece. Two have been stolen, but Warren said that four that remain have done their job.

"They work as long as we move them," Warren remarked, explaining that town employees passing by or working in the parks shuffle the coyotes around at least twice a day. Stationed along the shoreline, casting watchful eyes on the water or poised to pounce with teeth bared, the coyotes have confined the geese to the lake. But, said Warren, if the coyotes are left on the same place too long, the geese waddle ashore and circle behind them.

Warren chose the coyotes over several more expensive alternatives, including dogs trained to harass the geese until they leave never to return and devices that produce a sound geese find unnerving costing $1,600 apiece. "There was no appetite for fences and hedges," he said. He recalled that the coyotes were effective in Abington, Massachusetts where he worked before coming to Meredith.

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Alton Central educator is N.H. Teacher of the Year

ALTON — Elizabeth Lichtenberg, a fourth grade teacher at Alton Central School, who is the 2015 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, says that she was overwhelmed when she found out at a school assembly yesterday that she had received the honor.
She was interviewed by the selection committee in August but says that she had completely put the honor out of her mind. ''When I didn't hear from anyone I thought that was over,'' said Lichtenberg, who had no idea that yesterday's assembly was being held in her honor.
Students cheered wildly when the award was announced and after the ceremony gathered around her to give her hugs and congratulations.
Lichtenberg has been a part of the Alton community for five years. The selection committee says it recognized her innate ability to develop authentic relationships with her students.
''Her generous and optimistic demeanor welcomes students into the learning environment where she prides herself on providing the individual guidance, motivation, and nurturing each student needs to find success. Elizabeth puts great pride in ensuring the students are having fun, but requires that her students take risks as she makes every effort to facilitate growth and change by working closely with both students and parents. Her efforts in the classroom extend beyond the classroom doors as she connects her community to her classroom through a rich student centered curriculum. Her commitment to her students and their families, her school, and her community are remarkable.'' the committee said in a written announcement of the award.
Lichtenberg, who prefers to be called Liz, wrote in her application, "Each day I work to create an environment where my students feel an ownership over their own learning, make connections, and become intrinsically motivated because they can see how what they are learning and doing makes a difference in their community."
Her former principal, Sydney Leggett, wrote in her letter of recommendation, "Elizabeth Lichtenberg is an exceptional teacher and leader in our community at Alton Central School who inspires children, other teachers, and parents to be and do their best."
Lichtenberg, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, says that she was motivated to become a teacher by her fourth grade teacher, Julie Keifer, who helped develop her passion for writing and reading and was until recently her long-time pen pal.
She began her teaching career in San Diego, California, before moving to New Hampshire and taught in Portsmouth for two years before moving to Alton.
And, while San Diego is said to have an ideal climate, Lichtenberg says that she prefers New Hampshire. ''San Diego is too crowded. I like the open space here and the people are wonderful. Alton Central School is the most amazing school I've ever been in. There are lots of people here who do exactly the same things I do and are equally deserving of this award,'' said Lichtenberg.
She said that because Alton is so big and spread out over so much territory that the school plays a central role in town. ''The school is our community. It's the gathering place for everyone in town,'' says Lichtenberg.
This year is her first year as the Gifted, Talented and Enrichment teacher for Alton Central School and she says that one of the reasons she was considered for the Teacher of the Year award is her willingness to work with everyone.
She and her husband, Aaron, who is a farmer, operate the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm, and raise vegetables at the former John Rogers farm on Hoyt Road in Gilford.
''We farm about one and a half acres and sell our produce at the Thursday night Farmer's Market in Laconia.'' she says.
Lichtenberg becomes New Hampshire's candidate for National Teacher of the Year award. In early December, she and other finalists for the 2015 NH Teacher of the Year will be invited to a "Leadership in Education Banquet" to celebrate their accomplishments along with other distinguished educators in the state.
Hannaford Supermarkets partners with the Department of Education to sponsor the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year program.

CAPTION: teacher of year

Elizabeth Lichtenberg, a teacher at Alton Central School, has been named the 2015 New Ham[shire Teacher of the Year. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Franklin School Board discusses fund balance

by Thomas P. Caldwell

FRANKLIN — The Franklin School District has an undesignated fund balance of $260,083 for the fiscal year ending June 30. Under an agreement with the Franklin City Council, the school department will return that money to the city coffers but the city, in turn, will allow the schools to make expenditures from the fund that will reduce future school budgets.
Business Administrator Mike O'Neill reported the numbers as part of his report on the MS-25 and DOE-25 forms the School District has to file with the State of New Hampshire. The MS-25 is used by the Department of Revenue Administration in setting the city's tax rate while the DOE-25 goes to the Department of Education as part of its oversight of the state's school districts and its determination of state adequacy aid.
For FY 2013-2014, the school district had total revenues of $14,103,657 and total expenditures of $13,790,186. A portion of that is the food service account which is handled separately because of the federal funds involved.
The Franklin School Board agreed on Sept. 15 to O'Neill's proposal that the district should seek approval from the city finance committee to buy out the leases on its copiers with some of the funds the city is holding. O'Neill said it would cost $192,558 to buy out the leases, while continuing with the leases would cost $259,912 over the next five years.
O'Neill also reported that he has been working with the Winnisquam and Newfound school districts on extending the current transportation contracts with First Student. He said that extending the contracts rather than putting them back out to bid keeps the costs low, noting that, when putting contracts out to bid, there is a 10 percent corporate administration cost added in.
Amanda Bergquist, who is succeeding O'Neill as business administrator, reported that the School District audits are now complete through 2011 with additional information provided to Grzelak and Company to enable the firm to complete the 2012 audit. She predicted that the audits will be up to date by the end of this year.
In other business, High School Principal Richard Towne provided an overview of the new Twitter accounts the schools intend to use as a means of improving communication between the schools and the community. School Board Chair Tamara Feener brought two tin cans connected by string to illustrate how up to date some on the board are when it comes to social media.
Towne explained that the Twitter account fhs_sau18 will provide updates on what is happening in the schools, along with notices of upcoming meetings, classroom tests, and other important information. A similar account (fms_sau18) is in place for the Middle School and they have reserved pss_sau18 for the Paul Smith Elementary School.
Towne noted that the School Board will need to update its social media policy, but he said Twitter provides more control over the content than a Facebook page which would allow comments that might take discussions in a different direction. While someone might "retweet" a message from the school feed and add their own comments, people going to the school feed will see only what the district approves for content.
Superintendent Robert McKenney reported that he was pleased with the quality of instruction he was seeing when he visited the classrooms and said the teachers are doing a good job.
The school board formalized his appointments of Ginelle Czerula as assistant principal of Paul Smith School and Rachel Dauer as Title I teacher at Franklin Middle School. The board also accepted, with regret, the resignation of Chuck Norwood, the director of buildings and grounds.
Prior to going into nonpublic session to discuss a student matter, the board also approved a middle school trip to Washington, D.C., and a Paul Smith School trip to the Montshire Museum in Norwich, Vt.

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