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Christopher Martin, 40, of Danbury was sentenced 10 to 20 years in Rockingham County Superior Court on Monday for plotting a violent home invasion in Deerfield. (JAMES A. KIMBLE PHOTO)

Danbury plumber gets prison for plotting Deerfield home invasion

BRENTWOOD — A plumber convicted of plotting a home invasion that caused a Deerfield veterinarian to be severely beaten inside his home was sentenced to serve 10 to 20 years in state prison.

A wrist-shackled Christopher Martin, 40, of Danbury, nodded to his family Monday while being led out of the courtroom to begin serving his sentence for recruiting a Manchester man and his girlfriend to carry out the June 29, 2011, home invasion.

Judge N. William Delker rejected arguments that Martin was a law-abiding local businessman who had an unwitting role in leading a masked intruder into the Deerfield home of Dr. Arthur Cutter, who kept $20,000 in cash, silver bars and other valuables in a bedroom safe.

"Mr. Martin, you aren't a guy caught in the middle of this mess," Delker said prior to announcing his sentence in Rockingham County Superior Court. "You are the guy who created this mess."

A jury convicted Martin on all charges on Aug. 2 after a three-day trial.

Prosecutors said the two consecutive prison terms of five to 15 years for conspiracy to commit burglary and accomplice to burglary will overlap some, likely amounting to a 20-year maximum.

Cutter, who knew Martin as a longtime family friend, had hired him for jobs around his home, including work on a bathroom.

"I don't ever want to have to deal with him again," Cutter said. "I thought he was a friend, and obviously he wasn't. That's really all I have to say."

Martin recruited two people for the burglary, providing them with a hand-drawn layout of Cutter's home. The burglars equipped themselves with duct tape, a spare set of license plates and bleach to cover their tracks.

"If things went as planned, we don't know what would have happened to Dr. Cutter, but they were ready for anything," Assistant County Attorney Michael Zaino said of the burglars.

A masked intruder, Jacob Palo, 37, of Manchester knocked Cutter backward at his front door during the break-in, repeatedly pistol whipping him in head and choking him. Palo then followed Martin's instructions to locate a gun Cutter kept in his home for protection.

"Dr. Cutter, at gunpoint, was forced to load his life savings into his own car not knowing whether he was going to live or die," Zaino said.

Palo is serving a 20- to 40-year sentence for his role in the home invasion. He pleaded guilty to burglary, assault and other charges related to a countywide manhunt for him that ended when he crashed the second stolen getaway car into a police cruiser.

Palo's girlfriend, Sherri Avnet, 34, of Manchester was sentenced to two to seven years in prison for acting as a lookout during the burglary.

Avnet exchanged several text messages with Martin when the burglary began to go awry, eventually leading state police to Martin's doorstep.

Delker said that Martin's choice to send two drug addicts after Cutter, instructing one to go after his gun, was an especially aggravating factor in the case.

He rebuked Martin for lying on the stand while testifying in his own defense during his trial.

"The Constitution does not give you the right to get on that witness stand to lie to the court and lie to the jury," Delker said, jabbing his index finger at the witness stand. "Frankly, this was one of the worst cases of perjury I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot of defendants. It's rare in a case when the state can catch a defendant in his own lies. Attorney Zaino had you twisted around like a ribbon."

Defense lawyer Mark Sisti, who was hired after Martin's trial, argued for a 2½- to 7- year prison term, saying his client never set foot in the home or got his hands on Cutter's valuables.

"I don't think he is one of these guys you want to destroy, judge," Sisti said.

Sisti also argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to seek a sentence for Martin on both convictions because they arose from the same event.

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