January 30. 2013 8:42AM

Vermont man charged in woman's 'random' stabbing death in Littleton

Special to the Union Leader

Rodney A. Hill, 37, of West Davville, Vt., is led into Littleton District Court Tuesday afternoon. The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office charged him with second-degree murder in the stabbing and slashing death of Dr. Catherine Houghton, 70. (POOL PHOTO, PAUL HAYES, CALEDONIAN-RECORD, ST. JOHNSBURY, VT.)

In a crime that prosecutors were at a loss to explain Tuesday, a Vermont man was being held without bail, charged in Monday night's stabbing and slashing death of a 70-year-old multi-lingual veteran of the U. S. Foreign Service at a Littleton hotel.


Catherine "Kitty" Houghton, a Nevada native, was a 1960 graduate of the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, and was on the board of directors at the private boarding school at the time of her death. The Stanford University graduate was the White Mountain School's 2011 commencement speaker.


Rodney Hill, 37, of West Danville, is charged with second-degree murder in the killing. He appeared Tuesday afternoon at a 10-minute hearing before Littleton District Court Judge John P. Cyr, but entered no plea. Pleas to felony charges are not allowed in New Hampshire's lower courts. Hill was scheduled for a Feb. 5 probable cause hearing.


The results of an autopsy were not available late Tuesday, but Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell, the prosecutor, said after the hearing that she believed Hill "stabbed and slashed" Houghton, shortly before 8 p.m. Monday in what Morrell said was a "public area" of the Hampton Inn off Route 302 in a heavily-traveled commercial district about a mile from downtown Littleton.


After being summoned, police encountered Hill outside the building and took him into custody. They then found the critically-injured Houghton inside.


She was transported to Littleton Regional Hospital where she died from her wounds. She had been stabbed in the neck and torso, according to Morrell. There was no known connection between Hill and Houghton, Morrell said, adding that investigators also had yet to learn why they were in the hotel Monday night.


Asked if the Attorney General's office had established a motive, Morrell replied, "Not at this time. It appears to be random."


Yellow police tape cordoned off much of the Hampton Inn Monday night and Tuesday as investigators did their work inside.


Morrell presented the court with alternative theories of second-degree murder against Hill, saying he had either "knowingly" or "recklessly" caused Houghton's death. The charge that's eventually brought forward may be determined by a Grafton County Superior Court grand jury when it considers an indictment in the case, Morrell said.


Hill was represented by New Hampshire public defender Marcie Hornick. He answered "yes" in a low voice when Cyr asked him twice if he understood that anything he said at the hearing could be used against him later.


Information that administrators posted Tuesday on the school's website described the impact of losing Houghton.


"The White Mountain School community is deeply saddened by the loss of Catherine "Kitty" Houghton. … She will long be remembered for her kindness, love of music, keen intellect and adventurous spirit. She lived life to its fullest, pursuing each next step with curiosity and joy. Through her words, actions and deeds she has inspired countless others to do the same."


The statement said Houghton was a strong student and athlete at The White Mountain School, formerly St.-Mary's-in-the-Mountains, whose love of music, the mountains and her St. Mary's friends continued to play a prominent role throughout her life.


After graduating from The White Mountain School, Houghton earned her bachelor of arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and later her master's and doctorate degrees from Stanford University. She served in the Peace Corps in Nepal and was, for a time, an international officer for the Bank of America, administrators said in their message.


Houghton spent most of her professional career as a commercial counselor in the global business arm of the U.S. Foreign Service. She served all over the world, including Colombia, Austria, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Germany and Canada.


She spoke 14 languages, with fluency in German, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Nepali and Bengali, according to the school.


After retirement, Houghton remained an avid hiker, skier and musician, singing in several choirs, and she obtained her pilot's license. She volunteered to fly for Angelflight, a nonprofit that provides air transportation and supplies for financially distressed people in medical need. She had been a member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, since 1996.