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Newspapers look to unseal Spader documents

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 20. 2013 10:46PM

MANCHESTER — The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and two newspapers joined forces Thursday to argue that documents sealed in the case of killer Steven Spader, which include depositions by his parents and expert witnesses concerning his mental state, be made public.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin did not object to the documents being unsealed, as requested by the Union Leader Corp. and The Telegraph of Nashua, although he suggested medical information contained in the depositions of Spader’s parents could be blacked out.

He told Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson that, had a full evidentiary hearing been held in April when Spader was resentenced for the hacking death of Kimberly L. Cates, 42, of Mont Vernon and the maiming of her then 11-year-old daughter, those witnesses would have testified in open court, publicly revealing the information contained in the sealed documents.

Atty. Kathleen Sullivan, representing the Union Leader Corp., said she agreed with the state’s position, but asked the court to release all the documents without any of the information being blacked out.

Jonathan Van Fleet, managing editor for content for The Telegraph of Nashua, told the judge that releasing the documents could shed light on why the murder happened and provide insight for parents of young teens who might have similar psychological problems as Spader.

Defense attorney Andrew S. Winters of Concord, however, contended the documents, which include the sentencing memorandum and exhibits, were the equivalent of a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) which is submitted to a court under seal and not made public.

A PSI includes information gathered by the state Department of Corrections concerning a defendant, the crime and the victims. The department is given access to the defendant, his legal counsel and may interview the defendant for input on sentencing. The PSI does not make any legal arguments and provides a neutral view of a defendant for the benefit of the court, Strelzin explained in court documents.

Spader, who prosecutors maintain is a psychopath, was a month shy of his 18th birthday when on Oct. 4, 2009, he and three other teens picked Cates’ home at random, hacked her to death with a machete and maimed her daughter Jaimie. He was given a mandatory life sentence without chance of parole for first-degree murder, and another 76 years for attempted murder of Jaimie and other crimes connected to the home invasion.

However, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller vs. Alabama, negated that sentence. The court ruled that juvenile offenders could not automatically be sentenced to life without parole, which in New Hampshire is mandatory for first-degree murder.

Strelzin said the sealed documents included information from depositions of expert forensic witnesses — a psychiatrist and psychologist — which is not protected by patient/doctor confidentiality.

The documents at issue, including the state’s sentencing memorandum, were filed under seal at the request of the defense according to Strelzin, and after Spader said he would not contest the resentencing.The state spent about six months preparing for the court hearing and then Spader decided not to contest it. Spader did not attend the resentencing, but he had attorney Jonathan Cohen read a statement from him in which he called his actions impulsive, expressed remorse and begged forgiveness. Strelzin said Spader’s statement directly addressed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling which said juveniles had to be treated differently by the justice system because of their impulsiveness.Strelzin, however, maintained there was nothing impulsive about the killing and that Spader is a psychopath who is not going to grow out of his problems.

Strelzin told the judge Spader did not have to speak that day, but when he chose to have a statement read by his attorney he also opened the door for all the sealed documents being made public.

Spader, he said, turned an uncontested hearing into a contested one, one that was unfair for the state because none of its expert witnesses were on hand to refute what he said.

He told the judge prosecutors agreed to waive an evidentiary hearing in Spader’s resentencing for expediency and to save the state the expense of calling expert witnesses.

Abramson did not say when she will issue a ruling.

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