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Amy Lafond listens to Lily Johnson's family before sentence is handed down

LACONIA — As more than 50 relatives and friends of the victims sat quietly in Belknap County Superior Court, Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County yesterday sentenced Amy Lafond to three-and-a-half years in prison for causing the death of Lilyanna Johnson and severely injuring Allyssa Miner.

"I cannot imagine the pain you all must be suffering," O'Neill said after passing sentence. This is truly a tragedy for our community."

Lafond was sentenced a week after pleading guilty to negligent homicide, second degree assault, possession of a narcotic drug and unlawful possession of a prescription medication. Other charges arising from the incident — manslaughter, a misdemeanor drug offense and three traffic violations — were dropped as the result of a plea bargain. Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen told the court, as she did a week ago when Lafond entered her plea, that the families of the victims accepted her decision to negotiate the plea bargain rather than take the case to trial.

For negligent homicide Lafond was sentenced to three-and-a-half to seven years in prison and required to undergo counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, forfeit her driver's license indefinitely and have no contact with the family of Lilyanna Johnson. She was also sentenced to three-and-a-half to seven years, for the second degree assault, to be served consecutively with six months of the minimum suspended conditional on counseling and treatment and good behavior for seven years while on parole. Lafond is also forbidden contact the family of Allyssa Miner.
The three-and-a-half to seven year sentence for possession of a narcotic drug was suspended, conditional on her good behavior for 10 years while on parole. Finally she was given a suspended sentence of a year in the Belknap County House of Corrections for unlawful possession of a prescription drug, a misdemeanor.

In addition, Lafond was ordered to make restitution of more than $265,000.
"This was certainly not what we anticipated," said Lilyanna Johnson's mother Bethany Davis after the hearing. She said that she expected a sentence of at least 20 years.
Earlier Davis, her gaze fixed on Lafond, told the court of watching the life leave her daughter's eyes and said "there's nothing left for us. You've taken it all."
Davis was among eight family members and close friends to address the court, several of them facing Lafond, who did not turn away. Spike Davis, who described himself as Johnson's favorite uncle, said that "she took away our angel. The world is not as good a place without Lily." To Lafond, he said, "I'm praying for you, because she asked me to."
"You took her away," declared Johnson's grandmother Susan Fleming, adding "I will never, ever forgive you. Your sentence should end when Lily's sentence ends," she continued. "You can go home when Lily comes home to us."
Jenn Camire said that "someone who made so many bad decisions took from us one who made so many good ones," then eyed Lafond and challenged her "to turn around and look at Lilyanna's family and friends." Asking for the maximum sentence, she said that "the punishment does not even come close to fitting the crime."
"This is a difficult, heartrending day for the entire community," began Pamela Littlefield, who said that "this was not an accident, but the result of poor decisions. And the results are irreversible."
The two girls, both 14 year old students at Laconia Middle School, were struck by the Jeep Cherokee driven by Lafond while on the sidewalk near the crosswalk at the south end of the Messer Street Bridge at approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 19. Lafond was traveling northbound on Messer Street toward its intersection with Opechee Street. A car going in the same direction had stopped at the crosswalk, apparently to enable students to cross the street. Lafond skirted the stopped car, crossed into the southbound lane of Messer Street, mounted the raised sidewalk and hit the two girls. That evening Johnson died from her injuries while Miner suffered a fractured pelvis and ruptured spleen as well as severe lacerations and internal injuries.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 11:40

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June 7 motorcycle ride will celebrate too short life of former LHS football captain

LACONIA — Friends of Devin Denoncourt, former Laconia High School football captain who passed away in March in Washington, D.C., just a few days after the birth of his son, Dylan, are planning a motorcycle run on June 7 to raise funds for his son.
Denoncourt, who was 35, was an offensive and defensive lineman during the Sachems back-to-back state championship seasons in 1995 and 1996 and played in the Shrine Bowl in 1997. He died of an unspecified heart condition.
Patrick O'Reilly, one of his friends who is helping organize the ride, said that it will be called ''2014 Ruckus Ride for Dev'' and that details are available on a Facebook page by that same name which is hosted by Benjamin Emery and Josh Corringham, who are organizing the event.
He said that Denoncourt had for the last five or six years organized a local motorcycle ride that was a reunion-like event for his friends and last year even flew up from Washington DC and rented a bike to take part in it.
More than 40 people had already signed up for the event, which was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but postponed to June 7 due to the forecast of rain.
''He was the type of person who was always a leader and just made everyone feel welcome,'' said O'Reilly, who said that Denoncourt had always been there for his friends and that they feel motivated to do the same for his family.
He had worked for Marriott International starting as a front desk manager while in college and working his way to his most recent position as general manager at the Courtyard Marriott at Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C.
Denoncourt is survived by his fiancé, Sheila Rhilinger, originally from North Attleboro, Mass.; and their son, Dylan Michael, both of Rockville, Md.; his bulldog Moxie; his parents, Dennis and Susan Denoncourt; his brother, Jason Denoncourt of Lexington, Mass. and wife, Rena, their children Mike, Luke, and Amelia; his sister, Nicole Sloane of Bedford, and her husband, Geoffrey and daughter, Susan; his grandmother Cleo Spain of Concord; and many aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The cost of the ride is $35/rider, $20/passenger, or $20/person for those who show up for the barbecue only. This includes food and a T-shirt, and there will be 50/50 raffles as another means to raise money.
The ride includes registration at 9 a.m. at a place to be determined. It will pass by Laconia High School and depart Laconia at 10 a.m., head to Alton and go around the backside of Lake Winnipesaukee, up to North Conway for a lunch (cost not included), head across the Kancamagus, then back to Belmont for a 4 p.m. barbecue at 77 Hoadley Road.
O'Reilly said memorial donations for those who can't attend can may be made to the Dylan Michael Denoncourt Trust Fund c/o Bank of New Hampshire, 62 Pleasant St., Laconia, NH 03246.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 01:51

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Pair of duck blinds discovered on public lands abutting Lily Pond

GILFORD — After hearing from Everett McLaughlin that there were two duck-hunting blinds built on Lily Pond sometime during the winter, last night selectmen asked the police to locate the owner of the one located on town property and ask the architect to remove it within 30 days.

In addition, selectmen asked Lt. Jim Leach to notify the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the Laconia Airport Authority especially about the one on state property that could interfere with the Lily Pond approach to Runway 8.

"There's been a lot of work put into these," said McLaughlin. "It won't be easy to get them off."

Selectboard Chair John O'Brien, who sat on the airport authority for a number of years and is a pilot, said the FAA would likely be the agency to "put the kibosh" on the blind near the runway approach.

When asked, Leach said there is a potential safety hazard other than the airport with one of the blinds that he said in his opinion is a little too close to Lily Pond Road for hunting.

According to Town Administrator Scott Dunn, no hunting blinds are permitted on any property without the permission of the property owner — in this case the town of Gilford.

Selectmen were also concerned with the logistics and costs associated with removing the blind that is on their property and said that if the town if forced to take the blind down, it should assess the costs to the person who put it up.

McLaughlin said it appears the blinds were set up some time over the winter when the pond was low and frozen. He said this time of year the pond is high and the area is accessible only by boat. Because the pond is only about six or seven feet deep, he said it is unlikely the town could get a boat in there powerful enough to remove the blind that is almost 20 feet long.

Selectmen said they would hold off on any action to remove the blind on its property until next month and after Leach has had an opportunity to do some background and investigative work.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 01:21

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Big change in N.H. criminal court system would route felonies directly to superior court

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners had proposed changes in the state court system that would see felony charges filed directly in Superior Court, bypassing the current practice of having them filed first in circuit courts, outlined to them by N.H. Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau Wednesday afternoon.
Nadeau said the goal of the program is to see 75 percent of felony level cases resolved within 90 days of being filed, 90 percent within 180 days and 98 percent within a year.
She said that currently in New Hampshire the average is 233 days passing between the time a case reaches Superior Court and it is resolved. And that doesn't even count the 45 to 90 days it takes a case to move from Circuit Court to Superior Court.
''We're duplicating what happens in Circuit Court in Superior Court. What we want to see is getting a judge with jurisdiction to resolve the case involved right away by eliminating the Circuit Court for felonies,'' said Nadeau
She said that eliminating the circuit court path for felonies will save two to three months and result in quicker resolution of felony cases, 40 percent of which she said can be resolved within 40 days of arrest, something she said is already taking place in Strafford County where an early case resolution program for property-crime cases has been in place for five years.
Nadeau said she would like to see other counties using what she called a vertical approach to felony cases, where the county attorneys' office becomes involved in felony cases immediately after arrest.
She said studies have shown that defendants who are held accountable for their actions close in time to their arrest are less likely to become repeat offenders and such an approach has an added benefit of reducing pretrial detention time, saving on costs for county jails.
Nadeau said that a pilot project which will start in Strafford County next month and Cheshire County in in July will see cases bound over from Circuit Court scheduled for an immediate hearing, or initial appearance, before a superior court judge who has jurisdiction to hear the case. At present a felony case waits three months or more once it's bound and a prosecutor can present it to a grand jury.
She said legislation will need to be passed in the next session of the Legislature which would recognize the superior court as having first jurisdiction in these cases, and that more research is being done as to whether other laws would need to change.
''This is different than our current adversarial model'' says Nadeau, who said that the project is intended to keep cases that should not have been felonies from ever reaching superior court, and to identify early those defendants who are eligible for drug court or other alternative sentencing programs.
Draft rules circulated earlier this year provide that at least 10 days before initial appearance, the state will have provided all discovery and a written plea offer. The defense must also let the state know whether it intends to raise an alibi or certain other defenses. At the initial appearance, the prosecutor and defense attorney must be ready to discuss early resolution. The defendant can waive indictment and enter a guilty plea at the initial appearance, if the parties reach an agreement.
She says if a defendant does not agree to accept a plea bargain offer within a 10-14 day period the offer will expire. "It gets the attention of the defense attorneys right away and and makes resolution of those cases before they ever move further more likely.''
She said the changes will be more fully explained to county officials at a meeting in September and that it will be two to two and a half years before the system can be fully implemented statewide.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 01:06

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