By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — While a former Belknap County deputy is already serving time for one rape conviction, he still faces charges in several other similar incidents.
The trials of Ernest Justin Blanchette, 37, on multiple counts of rape could be delayed for up to a year if his attorney appeals a ruling to the state Supreme Court made regarding his employment in his recent Hillsborough County trial.
Blanchette appeared briefly in the Belknap County Superior Court Tuesday. Presiding Justice James O'Neill said if attorney Brad Davis appeals Hillsborough North Judge Gillian Abramson's ruling regarding Blanchette's specific place of employment, he would like to wait to start the trial in his courtroom until after the high court rules.
Blanchette was convicted by a jury last month for one count of rape of a female prisoner he was transporting to the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown in July 2015. He was sentenced to serve 10 to 20 years in prison with the possibility of parole in eight years if he completes a sex offender program while incarcerated.
In Belknap County, he is charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault that allegedly involve three separate victims, one of whom is the same victim in Hillsborough County.
Davis said the law regarding custodial rape in Blanchette's case is specific only to corrections officers and Blanchette was employed by the sheriff's department. Abramson decided against his request that this be part of the jury instructions and instead told the jury that the victim was in the custody of the State Department of Corrections and that Blanchette was acting as its de facto agent during her transport.
Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen has said Abramson's ruling applies in her cases as well.
She said she doesn't want to wait until the Supreme Court rules on Davis's possible appeal and has said that she could amend the indictments to reflect his place of employment and the custodial charge she believes he had of the victims in Belknap County.
She said the law as it is written is vague, but that the intent of the legislature in passing it was to protect inmates from abuse while incarcerated or in any type of official custody.
Guldbrandsen also said that new information has come to light in her cases against Blanchette and has asked the court for time to consider it and will provide it to Davis as part of future discovery. She told the judge she needed about a week.
Davis said he was willing to agree to a continuance if its purpose is to wait for a state Supreme Court ruling but not if it was so the County Attorney could consider new evidence.
Blanchette's first trial is scheduled for the middle of this month.
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