LANCASTER — After he issued a tearful apology to the family members of two workers killed in a 2010 explosion at a Colebrook gunpowder plant, the factory's former owner was dealt a stiff New Hampshire State Prison sentence Wednesday.
Coos County Superior Court Judge Peter H. Bornstein sentenced 64-year-old Craig Sanborn of Maidstone, Vt., to a pair of consecutive five- to 10-year terms — 10 to 20 years in all — following his convictions last month on two counts of manslaughter.
The judge then denied his attorney's motion to continue $250,000 bail pending a New Hampshire Supreme Court appeal of the convictions. As more than a dozen of his own family members and supporters looked on, court officers took Sanborn into custody to await the trip to the State Prison for Men in Concord.
Donald Kendall, 56, of Colebrook and Jesse Kennett, 49, of Stratford were killed just after lunchtime on May 14, 2010, as a series of explosions, then a fire, erupted while they worked on industrial grinding and mixing machines used in the manufacture of gunpowder at Black Mag LLC on Gould Street.
Sanborn struggled to maintain his composure Wednesday while explaining that attorneys had, for the past three years, not allowed him to contact the families of the men to express his grief and condolences, something he wanted to do.
"I was never accorded the opportunity to speak to or contact the family members. I was not allowed to attend their services," he said.
As he concluded his statement, Sanborn turned and faced the victims' family members.
"There's nothing I can do or say to bring peace to this tragic issue. I'm truly sorry for the loss to the families."
Expert witnesses, during a trial that took much of October, testified that Kendall and Kennett, who had started their jobs just a few weeks earlier, were killed immediately by the powerful initial explosion in the production room. Witnesses told a jury that extremely unsafe conditions prevailed there, including explosive dust coating much of the floors and machinery. That, Coos County Attorney John McCormick repeatedly told jurors, was the fault of Sanborn's negligence and recklessness.
Defense attorney Mark Sisti repeatedly countered that his client hadn't even been in New Hampshire the day of the tragedy. He was several hundred miles away at a gun show, Sisti said.
"He's a completely different man than the monster that's being portrayed by the prosecution," Sisti told Bornstein during Wednesday's 2½-hour court session.
When Bornstein gave her the chance Wednesday to present her victim's impact statement, Jesse Kennett's widow, Bethany Kennett, described what she said was the awful day she got the news that there had been an explosion and fire at her husband's workplace.
"My life and my daughter's life ended as we knew it. My husband was a very good man. I thought, 'What am I going to do without him?' I've never been alone in my life. All I wanted was to crawl in the corner and die, too."
Four people, including one present and one former North Country police chief, presented verbal statements Wednesday attesting to the good character and giving nature of Sanborn, who, Bornstein acknowledged, had no criminal record prior to last month.
The jury also convicted Sanborn on two counts of negligent homicide in Kendall's and Kennett's deaths, but McCormick elected Wednesday to have him sentenced on the manslaughter counts, each of which could have carried a maximum term of 30 years.
Bornstein nevertheless acknowledged that the sentence he did hand down was stiff, especially for a man of Sanborn's age.
Striking a balance
The prison term will also carry 150 days additional incarceration for each year of the minimum sentences. Bornstein fined Sanborn $4,000 with an additional $960 penalty assessment on each count, and ordered him to participate in any counseling and treatment programs the corrections department recommends.
Sisti had proposed a sentence of 12 months in the county house of corrections, and a 3½- to seven-year suspended prison term, plus 250 hours of community service.
In rejecting both that and a call from some victims' family members for the full manslaughter term, Bornstein said he had tried to strike a balance.
"I appreciate that the loss is terrible; it's immeasurable. People should not have to go to work at their own risk, or an unknown risk," he said.
After the sentencing, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels issued this statement about Sanborn: "His criminal conviction and sentence won't bring these men back to life, but it will keep him from putting workers' lives in peril. And it should drive home to employers this message: Worker safety can never be sacrificed for the benefit of production, and workers' lives are not-and must never be-considered part of the cost of doing business. We categorically reject the false choice between profits and safety."