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New motions filed in court signal effort to overturn son-in-law's conviction in 1993 murder of Nashua woman

New Hampshire Sunday News

May 04. 2013 7:56PM

Michael Monroe 

New court filings for a Nashua man convicted almost two decades ago of killing his mother-in-law reveal a renewed push to prove Michael Monroe innocent, while secret records ordered released to the defense last week raise more questions in a case that still haunts Monroe's original defense team.

Barry Scheck and Seema Saifee of the Innocence Project filed motions recently in Hillsborough County Superior Court South seeking to represent Monroe in New Hampshire.

A more curious motion in the court file says Associate Attorney General Jane Young contacted the defense April 22 to advise them that motions in limine, objections and orders had been partially unsealed. Those documents are absent from court records, even though Judge Diane Nicolosi granted a request last week to release the "partially unsealed" documents to defense attorney Michael Iacopino of Manchester, local counsel to the Innocence Project.

On Friday, Young refused to discuss the sealed and partially unsealed documents. Motions in limine usually involve requests for a judge to make a determination on the admissibility of evidence at trial.

Court Clerk Marshall Buttrick said the sealed and partially unsealed documents won't be released to the public short of a court order.

Monroe, 63, has served almost half of the minimum sentence of 40 years to life in state prison after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder for stabbing Theresa Levesque to death in her Nashua home on the night of March 6, 1993.

"Michael has haunted me," said Barbara Keshen, who defended Monroe with Andrew Schulman as public defenders.

They were so concerned an innocent man may have been convicted that they obtained permission to exhume Levesque's body after the trial. Keshen said they hoped to find new evidence that would clear their lingering doubts once and for all, doubts the jury's guilty verdict had failed to dispel.

"It cost $3,000," Keshen said of the exhumation. "We put up our own money."

The casket, however, hadn't been well-sealed. Levesque's body was too badly decomposed to do any meaningful testing, she said.

"If they had dug up the body and there had been Michael's DNA, it would have been money well spent to put the matter to rest," Keshen said.

"I wanted to know if he was guilty or innocent."

Keshen, who had previously been a top homicide prosecutor and more recently has served as staff attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said Monroe confessed 18 months after the murder. In total, he confessed four times.

"None of the details of the confession matched the facts surrounding the crime," Keshen said. Monroe later appealed unsuccessfully, arguing his confessions had been involuntary and coerced and he hadn't received sufficient Miranda warnings.

"Michael said he stabbed Mrs. Levesque with a knife. There was no bloody knife at the scene or found during an extensive search of property.

"His clothes didn't have blood. His car didn't have blood. It never made sense."

Keshen said Levesque was also hit in the head the night she was murdered, but Monroe's confession never mentions that fact. "That's because he didn't know because I don't think he did it," Keshen said.

Psychological research

The trial took place at a time when more psychological research was being done on false confessions, Keshen said, but Judge Bernard Hampsey refused the money to pay for an expert witness.

"The jury never got to hear the psychology around false confessions," Keshen said

According to former Chief Judge Paul Barbadoro's ruling against Monroe in federal court, Monroe was targeted as a suspect early on because there was no sign of forced entry at Levesque's home and there was no physical disturbance beyond the murder scene.

"Although there was no physical evidence linking Monroe to the crime, the police gradually began to suspect him due to inaccuracies in his explanation of where he was the night of the murder, as well as the fact that he was experiencing financial difficulties and would benefit from Levesque's death," Barbadoro wrote.

There were problems, too, Keshen said, with the autopsy conducted by former medical examiner Dr. Roger Fossum, who has since died, that made it impossible to pinpoint time of death. Fossum didn't preserve the victim's stomach contents, which could have narrowed down the time of death, she said.

"There was a very narrow window of opportunity for (Monroe) to do this. If Dr. Fossum had preserved the stomach contents, it may have exonerated him completely," Keshen said.

All told, Keshen handled about 100 homicides as a prosecutor and later as a public defender, But, she said, Monroe's is the only conviction that still causes her to lose sleep.

"What I am hoping is that some day someone is going to admit to Mrs. Levesque's murder," Keshen said.

Police investigation

Nashua police enlisted an undercover officer to contact Monroe several times before he was arrested pretending to have information that Monroe was guilty but saying he wouldn't go to police if Monroe gave him money. Monroe refused to pay him.

Keshen said John Seusing, now Nashua's police chief, was bent on getting Monroe, a restaurant owner whose mistress provided his alibi that night.

"I thought the case was personal with John Seusing," Keshen said.

Seusing was a lead investigator in the Levesque case. Monroe ultimately confessed to Seusing while Monroe's wife - convinced he was guilty -- pleaded with him to do so.

Seusing didn't respond to requests for comment. Associate Attorney General Young did say her office is continuing to investigate a recent complaint alleging Seusing had a personnel issue that may have affected his ability to testify at Monroe's trial that wasn't disclosed to the defense.

Prosecutors must disclose any law enforcement officer's confidential discipline record that could be considered favorable to the defendant, such as lying under oath or other matter that could negatively reflect on the officer's truthfulness.

The Innocence Project assists prisoners who could be proved innocent through DNA testing, according to its website.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin, the head of the state's homicide unit, said he has dealt with Innocence Project attorneys in the past on the Monroe case.

"They asked for more DNA testing," Strelzin said, adding the tests were completed a couple of years ago.

"Nothing came of it. Nothing was helpful."

Schulman, a partner at Getman, Schulthess & Steere in Manchester, now specializes in commercial litigation, criminal defense and appeals in state and federal court. He is the president of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"I certainly have respect and understand why the jury would convict based on a taped confession," Schulman said.

"But I don't believe he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

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