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Belmont rape trial expected to go to jury Thursday

By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The defense attorney representing a Belmont businessman on trial for starting a sexual relationship with a teenaged girl nearly 20 years ago spent much of Wednesday posing questions to the state's witnesses in an effort to challenge their creditability.

Steven Price, 66, is charged with four counts of rape, alleging that he repeatedly engaged in sex with a now 34-year-old woman when she was between the ages of 13 and 17.

The allegations came to light after the alleged victim was charged with stealing jewelry valued at $13,700 from a safe in the bedroom of the defendant's home. On the day she was to plead guilty to the felony theft, the woman disclosed the alleged abuse to her attorney, sparking a police investigation.

She was given immunity for the criminal charges so that she could testify against Price. The crux of the defense's case is that the accuser made up the allegations to avoid going to jail.

Sean Sullivan, a school resource officer for the Alton Police Department, testified on Wednesday that he was working for Belmont Police in 1999 when he was dispatched to J&L Auto on Route 140.

After reviewing his written report, Sullivan recalled speaking with the property owner, Leon Cram, and another man called J.J. Cram told the officer that the only reason that he was speaking to him was because he was intoxicated and that Sullivan needed to pry the information out of him.

Sullivan said during the conversation a report was made concerning a young lady being seen on top of Mr. Price, while both were fully clothed. The officer's testimony corroborated the earlier testimony of both the victim and John Jenot.

The state rested its case late Wednesday afternoon and the judge told the jury that the lawyers for both sides believe testimony will conclude Thursday morning, following by closing arguments. After receiving instructions from the judge, the jury will then begin deliberating its verdicts.

Thomas Black, who briefly worked for Price, spent a day and a half on the stand and was unhappy about being there. While being questioned, Black repeatedly said that he was only repeating what he'd been told by others, including the alleged victim. When he was called to meet with Prosecutor Alysia Cassotis, the lead detective and the county's victim witness advocate, he testified that he told them his information was hearsay.

In an effort to prove that, Black said, he asked Detective Eliza Gustafson to step out of the room and then told the prosecutor and Barbara Belmont of rumors he'd heard about Belmont police.

As a result of those disclosures, the prosecutor wrote a memo to Belmont police and the Attorney General's Office ultimately conducted an investigation, but found no wrongdoing.

Black testified within days of disclosing the rumors he received a call from an investigator with the AG's Office and called Belmont to tell her that he wasn't going to testify.

"All I know is hearsay," Black told the jury, adding he'd been told that if he didn't accept a subpoena, he'd be jailed.

When pressed about what he'd said in a taped interview, including statements that he'd witnessed the defendant and the alleged victim engaging in a sex act, he maintained he'd misunderstood the question.

Black told the jury that Price had once bragged that he could have sex with the alleged victim "anytime I want," and that a sexual relationship between the two had been "going on a long time." But Black was unable to pinpoint a time frame when he claimed Price made the boast.

He testified that he had urged the woman to go to police and report that she was underage when she began having sex with Price, before she was arrested for stealing from the defendant.

"I think she wanted to go to the police but felt that the only person that was ever there for her would get in trouble," he said.

On Wednesday, Belmont Detective Gustafson was subjected to a pointed cross examination by the defense.

"Once again, we lose the chance to corroborate or disprove (the alleged victim's) story, but nobody followed up, agreed?" questioned defense attorney Jim Moir.

Reading from a phonebook-sized transcript of one of two interviews the alleged victim gave to police, Moir recounted numerous times where the woman told investigators that multiple people had witnessed or had
personal knowledge that she and Price had sex when she was underage.

Under questioning by Moir, the detective detailed that after the alleged victim recounted that her first sexual encounter with Price happened in his red Dodge Ram pickup, a search of motor vehicle records was done. Price only ever had a white pickup truck registered in his name.

During her investigation, Gustafson went to a cemetery off South Road in Belmont, where the alleged victim said she and Price had their first sexual encounter in his truck in 1997. Moir asked the detective to show the jury photos of the cemetery she had taken and describe what they showed.

He focused the jury on how narrow and long the access road was and a portion of a transcript in which the alleged victim said Price had backed the truck into the cemetery.

On Tuesday, Belmont Detective Raechel Moulton testified that when she questioned the alleged victim about the theft from Price's safe, the woman never said that she had permission to take the jewelry.

On Wednesday, before the jury was brought into the courtroom, the prosecutor successfully argued for the chance to question Moulton again. The judge agreed to allow the state to recall Moulton, who testified that when she first questioned the woman, she asked if the detective would contact Price, explaining that if she did, that in effect it would settle the case.

After reviewing her report of the interaction, the detective told the jury that the alleged victim told her that Price had called earlier that same evening and said if she returned all the stolen items he'd drop the criminal charge.

The jury of nine men and five women have heard about five full days of testimony since the trial started on Oct. 17. Two of the jurors will be randomly selected to serve as alternates after closing arguments are heard and will not participate in the deliberations, unless another member of jury is unable to continue.

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Electricity spike - NH Co-op bills to go up 14 percent this winter

PLYMOUTH — Electricity bills are going up by an average of $12.69 per month for customers of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative this winter.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative board of directors has approved rate changes effective with bills rendered Nov. 1 that will result in an overall bill increase of 14.2 percent, or $12.69 per month, for a typical residential member using 500 kilowatt-hours per month.
The rate increase is the result of increases in two portions of members' bills – Co-op Power (the actual electricity used) and the Regional Access Charge (the cost to access the regional transmission grid in order to get power to the NHEC distribution system). For most members, the Co-op Power rate is increasing 42 percent, from 5.4 cents per kWh to 7.6 cents per kWh. By comparison, that is 25 percent lower than last winter's Co-op Power rate of 9.5 cents per kWh.
For most members the Regional Access Charge is increasing 12.5 percent during this winter period, from 2.4 cents per kWh to 2.7 cents per kWh. Driving this increase are the continued costs of major investments being made in the region's bulk transmission facilities that move large amounts of power from generators to points throughout New England.
Electric rates typically increase during the winter months, due to higher wholesale electricity costs. The same conditions that have caused New England electric rates to spike for the past four winters are still to blame for this latest seasonal increase. Though natural gas prices remain low at the wellhead, a lack of adequate pipeline capacity into New England means that power producers will be competing again this winter with home heating for limited natural gas supplies. This causes a significant delivery premium to be added to the wellhead price for natural gas, which is used to generate more than half of the electricity produced in New England.
NHEC is encouraging members to mitigate the effects of higher winter rates by conserving and, when possible, participating in NHEC's Energy Solutions programs. Energy efficiency improvements can help members save energy and money year-round. NHEC provides a full slate of energy-saving opportunities for residential, commercial and municipal members. Complete details are available online at www.nhec.com/energysolutions. Members can also view and manage their electric usage on SmartHub, NHEC's online home for account management at www.nhec.com

Meredith Library, Kelley Corner School among NH Preservation’s ‘Seven to Save’

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MANCHESTER — Two landmarks in Belknap County — the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library in Meredith and the Kelley Corner School in Gilmanton — were among the "Seven to Save" list of endangered historic buildings announced by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance on Tuesday.

"Our list features the sort of places that you can't imagine your community without," said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, adding that "today we recognize seven great opportunities to transform threatened resources into vibrant community assets once again."

Meredith LibraryThe Meredith Public Library

The listing of the Meredith Public Library follows the decision of the board of trustees of the library in May to construct a new library at another location. Goodman said that in light of that decision, "We are concerned about the future of the building and want to raise awareness of its importance."

Earlier, the trustees' decision aroused the concern of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which in 2014 awarded the library a $70,000 matching grant to make repairs to the building. Dijit Taylor, executive director of the Land and Community Heritage Program wrote to Beverly Heyduk, who chairs the board of trustees, to say that her "board members were taken aback to learn of the possible plan to relocate the library." In her letter, Taylor cited the library's grant application, which carried "the clear message ... that the building will continue as the public library in its current location for many years to come." She closed by strongly urging the library trustees to reconsider their decision.

The library, built in 1901, is in need of extensive repairs and renovation. In 2011 a routine inspection found the building failed to comply with fire and safety codes, a judgment subsequently confirmed by the New Hampshire State Fire Marshall's Office, which led to the closure of space on the upper level in 2013. In 2012, assessments of the building by two architects versed in historic construction and renovation found that the library needed extensive repairs costing between $300,000 and $500,000. Altogether, between 2008 and 2015, the library and the town spent $419,710, of which state grants represented $100,000, on repairs and maintenance without overcoming the major shortcomings of the building, such as replacing the rear staircase and installing a sprinkler system.

Heyduk said, "We are very well aware of the historic significance of the building." She stressed that the trustees have pledged to assist the town, which owns the building, in putting it to another purpose consistent with its historic character. She explained that the alterations required to continue using the building as a library in compliance with building codes, fire and life safety regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act would be inconsistent with its architectural and historic character. "We are doing a favor by leaving so that its historic integrity can be sustained," she said.

Kelley Corner SchoolKelley Corner School

The Kelley Corner School in Lower Gilmanton was built in 1778, the first of 18 schoolhouses dotted about town at one time and the only one of them still standing. The school operated until 1940, and since 1949 has been leased by the school district to the Lower Gilmanton Community Club to host community events such as strawberry festivals, bean suppers, harvest festivals and Halloween parties. As membership dwindled, the club's activities diminished and eventually the schoolhouse went dark for many years.

But, in the last decade , a revived Lower Gilmanton Community Club has turned its attention to the Kelley Corner School and secured it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. This year, the club is seeking a grant from the Land and Community Heritage Program to undertake repairs, including restoration of the chimney to enable the building to be heated with a wood stove, costing an estimated $35,000.

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