EPPING — Selectmen have asked Town Administrator Gregory Dodge to consult with the town’s police department and report back on the steps being taken to investigate the case involving a store clerk who died of an apparent heart attack two hours after a robbery .
The Christmas Day death of Cumberland Farms’ worker Norman Blais has led to public outcry and calls for police to pursue more serious charges against the accused thief, but Dodge told selectmen Tuesday night that Police Chief Michael Wallace is handling the case appropriately.
“I think he’s done his due diligence in this case. It’s disturbing, it’s upsetting, but the law is the law,” Dodge said.
Police charged 27-year-old Jeffrey Seymore of Manchester with theft after he allegedly walked into the Cumberland Farms on Christmas Eve and stole four cartons of cigarettes. Police said he then fled the store, but Blais was able to provide a description of the suspect and vehicle that helped police track down Seymore in Raymond.
The theft scared Blais and caused him to get behind with his work as he dealt with the situation, according to his wife, Denise Blais of Nottingham.
She has said her 67-year-old husband was rushing to get caught up so that he could leave when his shift ended at midnight, but then he collapsed inside the store. She said it appears he suffered a fatal heart attack two hours after the theft and has argued that the theft contributed to her husband’s death.
In an interview this week, Wallace said he plans to talk more with interim Rockingham County Attorney Jim Boffetti once he has autopsy results and lab tests available, but said that proving that the theft caused the death would be difficult.
Police Capt. Jason Newman has said police contacted Boffetti after the death to see if they could explore additional criminal charges, but it was determined that no further charges would be filed.
Boffetti is an assistant attorney general, but is filling in as county attorney after Jim Reams was suspended last fall. Newman said police contacted Boffetti in his role as county attorney.
Wallace said police haven’t ruled anything out, but he admitted that bringing a charge other than theft would be a tough case to prosecute.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Jim McGeough made a motion asking Dodge to send a letter to police to encourage the department and its prosecutor to review the case further.
Selectmen were supportive of the letter, but later decided against it and asked Dodge to discuss the case with Wallace and provide a report to selectmen at a future meeting.
“I just feel that when you come to our town, we want people to know that whether working in our town, living in our town, or passing through our town that safety is one of our key issues in this town, and as leaders of this town, we’ve always put that forward,” McGeough said.
Selectman Robert Jordan echoed McGeough’s position. He said he’s heard from several people who have questioned why something more can’t be done.
“There’s got to be something more that our prosecutor can do to go a little deeper than just a slap on the wrist with this. They basically took a man’s life away from him, inadvertently,” he said.
A former longtime Epping police chief, Dodge told selectmen that the case isn’t so easy.
“If it goes before a grand jury, you can indict a ham sandwich by the grand jury. You can go that route, but then you’ve got to prove there was intent by the guy who stole the cigarettes, allegedly, to have caused the death of this gentleman, which he probably didn’t do,” Dodge said.
He added, “You may not like the outcome. I don’t like the outcome. I certainly think there could be cause and effect there, but I don’t know that for a fact, and to prove that in a court of law, I don’t see that happening.”