Killer's parents call NH mental health services 'appalling'
MANCHESTER - Nearly two years before Steven Spader hacked to death a Mont Vernon mother in 2009, a police SWAT team was summoned to the Spader home after the teenager gouged the kitchen counter top with kitchen knives during a fight with his parents.
The Brookline teenager later bragged he was "the most sick and Twiztid person you will meet" in a letter to a fellow jail inmate before he was convicted in 2010 of killing Kimberly Cates and of the attempted murder of her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie, in a home invasion.
"Death doesn't frighten me, blood excites me," Spader wrote to a fellow prison inmate before his 2010 trial. "I've got more s--- wrong in my brain then (sic) you can think of. But such is life."
Among the hundreds of pages of court papers released last week at the request of the New Hampshire Union Leader, Spader's parents, Steven and Christine, detailed their son's series of counseling sessions, hospitalizations and run-ins with the law.
"(T)here was a wonderful boy who was our son, who around the age of 16 switched overnight to someone else that was not controllable and had major, major issues," his mother said in a January 2013 deposition.
"That we, on our own expense and not the state's, in many instances, tried to help and could not get help. Now, had we gotten the right kind of help and the right kind of program for my son, maybe we wouldn't all be here today," Mrs. Spader said.
Mr. Spader, in a separate January deposition, also criticized the treatment given their son, whom they adopted at 5 days old.
"I mean, I feel for the families. But obviously we've tried to do a lot of stuff in the mental health area here in New Hampshire, and it's been a serious letdown. It's just appalling how poor it is here in this state, just absolutely appalling," he said.
Jeffery Strelzin, the senior assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, said Spader's parents "did take extraordinary steps to get him help" for his mental health problems.
"But the fact that that didn't work doesn't mean the system failed," Strelzin said in an interview last week. "It simply means you had someone who was not amenable to treatment or change because he didn't want to. He chose his path because he liked it."
The parents' depositions were given in advance of their son's April resentencing hearing, which was required after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for defendants who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes. Spader killed Mrs. Cates 36 days before his 18th birthday.
A psychiatrist who reviewed Spader's mental health records for state prosecutors agreed that mental health counselors and others hadn't ignored the teen.
Albert Drukteinis wrote that "various diagnoses of a mental disorder had been proposed prior to Mr. Spader's involvement in the crime on 10/04/09, and he was not just a troubled adolescent who was overlooked. Instead, he had numerous evaluations and exposures to mental health treatment programs and providers...."
Dr. Robert Kinscherff, a defense-hired psychologist who interviewed Spader in June 2010 and November 2012, said Spader told him he didn't get as much satisfaction as he had hoped from delivering the more than 30 blows with a machete to a sleeping Kimberly Cates.
"He had wanted it to be a much more richly conscious experience and perhaps one that might have gone on over a longer period of time," Kinscherff said in a February 2013 deposition. "But once they got into the bedroom and it began he - the word that he used was 'I went on autopilot' - and he didn't get the emotional rush in that moment that he had anticipated that he would."
Before Spader's resentencing, Kinscherff in a December 2012 report said he found no major mental illness and that it "is simply not possible as a matter of behavioral science to reliably predict at this point what sort of person Steven will become from this point in his early young adulthood over a period of years, decades or a lifetime."
Kinscherff said the more the teenager pulled himself away from adult supervision prior to the murder, the more he withdrew from things that typically would correct an adolescent's behavior, such as his parents or school.
"His reality was particularly toxic, particularly sadistic and particularly dangerous," Kinscherff said in his deposition.
"That reality combined with what sounds to me a fairly desperate need to make himself the center of this reality and engage like-minded peers in this pattern of activity that he hoped would be exhilarating and would make him feel important contributed substantially to a murder and an attempted murder that on all levels I found simply horrific," he said.
But Spader's father, in his deposition, said his son "is not the monster that everyone thinks he is."
Mrs. Spader said she has read about her son's case on the Internet, but never asked him directly about what happened that night.
"And yes, it is horrifying and we still cannot believe that that's the same person that was our son," she said in her deposition in January.
Growing up, Spader, who made the honor roll in grade school, shaved his head for the role of Daddy Warbucks in the musical "Annie" during eighth grade and spent hours memorizing his lines. His class voted him "The Most Dramatic." He loved video games and Harry Potter.
When he painted benches for community service at camp, Spader had a friend paint his hair blue and had to have his head shaved when he came home. And while at Hollis Brookline High School, Spader "started cutting his arms with CD cases. This was very fashionable at his HS," his mother wrote in a summary of her son's life and mental health treatment.
In 2006, Spader "was writing dark poetry about being the faceless boy and death," according to his mother.
Court records show the teen, who was born with traces of marijuana and cocaine in his system, began mental health counseling that year. He had repeated episodes of not taking prescribed medication, running away from home and being admitted to hospitals and treatment centers, according to his parents.
That July, Spader said he learned his girlfriend was pregnant. Spader later wrote his parents, "begging us to see if he could see the baby and he would be the best father in the world," his mother said in her summary. "We sent him photos."
He also found out his biological mother had other children. Later, talking with an aunt, Spader "ended up crying, saying why did they keep everyone and give me up."
Nearly two years after Spader was adopted, a half-brother of Spader's almost moved in with the family when his biological mother asked the Spaders to take another child she was about to deliver. But she was incarcerated and the birth father took custody of the newborn, according to Spader's mother.
Two days before the murder, Spader attended a counseling session, according to his mother.
Spader and four friends were convicted in connection with the murder. Spader is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kinscherff said he found Spader was "very angry that his comrades behaved in ways that got them caught," and he wanted "to turn this into kind of a traveling group serial killing operation."
While awaiting trial at the Valley Street Jail, Spader hatched a plan: make money selling smuggled-in drugs and from writing a book, then pull off an escape.
"Now if your (sic) up to this it means from the get go we gonna be looked for by everyone from the FBI to the CIA, no lie, but if we can pull this off well enough, we should have enough time to blast off before they know what's what," Spader wrote an inmate, Chad Landry, who later testified at Spader's trial.
Now, more than three years after the murder, Spader's mother said these days her son, now 21, calls them every other day, and they visit him in prison every other Sunday.
"He still asks about his dog a lot," she said in her deposition, referring to a rat terrier named Spike.
Spader's mother said the family has reconciled their past.
"We have all apologized to each other about the things that went wrong," she said in her summary. "He said he felt like a puppet and we were pulling the strings."
The son told his parents he had found God and was exercising and watching his carbohydrate intake in prison.
Meanwhile, his parents keep searching for answers.
"You know, certainly the crime is just beyond the scope of my imagination," Mr. Spader said in his deposition. "And, you know, we've tried to do what we can. Could we have done more? I don't know. That's a question I keep asking myself."
Staff Reporter Shawne K. Wickham contributed to this story.