Madbury trio charged with murder said to be friends with victim
DOVER — The three men charged with stabbing to death 18-year-old Aaron Wilkinson with knives and a machete outside his Madbury home were friends of their target and discussed the murder somewhere in Maine beforehand, according to court records and interviews.
Zachary Pinette, 18, of Springvale, Maine, Michael Tatum, 21, of Barrington and Tristan Wolusky, 18, of Rochester are all facing first-degree murder charges for the June 21 killing.
State police arrested the three after a round-the-clock investigation that began last Saturday morning with several law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire and Maine, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin, chief of the state’s homicide unit.
“They were arrested at a variety of different times overnight at different locations,” Strelzin said on Thursday.
The three were ordered held without bail on Thursday by Judge Stephen Morrison during their arraignments in 7th Circuit Court, Dover Division.
Prosecutors say that Pinette discussed a plan with Tatum and Wolusky on June 21 to go to Wilkinson’s home at 36 Evans Road and murder him. The killing allegedly happened around 1:30 a.m.
Strelzin would not say where the murder occurred on the property.
“I can tell you it wasn’t in the home,” he said.
Pinette is accused of driving Wolusky and Tatum from a location in Maine to the Madbury house, according to a court complaint. Pinette was allegedly holding a machete while Tatum and Wolusky were armed with knives, stabbing Wilkinson, the complaint says. Wilkinson was also stabbed with the machete at some point, state police said.
The arrests came as a shock to those who knew Wilkinson and the three charged with his murder.
“He would hang out with them,” said Chris Cote, 19, of Dover, a longtime friend Wilkinson’s. “He would skate with them. They were his friends, but apparently not.”
Wilkinson’s body was found along Long Swamp Road in Lebanon, Maine, by a woman about 4 p.m. Saturday. The discovery came hours after Wilkinson’s father reported to police that his son was missing, according to prosecutors.
Cote said he was at a loss as to why Pinette, Tatum and Wolusky would want to kill Wilkinson.
“I think it’s jealousy,” he said. “I think he finally got a really good-looking girl and they got jealous.”
“They wanted him to suffer slowly and they succeeded,” Cote added.
Cote described Wilkinson as a warm-hearted friend who always tried to make others smile.
Staff and administrators at Great Bay Charter School, where Wilkinson once attended school, described him as a sweet soul with a quick smile and an eagerness to share his prowess on the skateboard with anyone who wanted to learn.
Stacey Clark, Wilkinson’s adviser and English teacher, said “Every day he would say, ‘Ms. Clark, are you having a good day today?’ He just wanted everyone to be happy.”
“I don’t know why they would want to hurt somebody who was just a kind, kind, kind boy,” Clark added.
Great Bay Charter School Executive Director Cheryl McDonough described Wilkinson as a “very bright” and “inquisitive” student who had a passion for art, skateboarding, an easy ability to make friends, and a supportive, involved father with whom he lived.
“It’s shocking for us,” McDonough said.
Wilkinson attended the charter school for three years beginning in his sophomore year, Clark said. He previously attended Dover public schools, she said.
Clark said she didn’t know why Wilkinson withdrew from the charter school in April, so close to graduation.
Students have been coming to school to sign the yearbook that would have been Wilkinson’s, Clark said.
They will present it to Wilkinson’s father, Paul R. Carroll, Friday night at a candlelight vigil at which they are planning to celebrate their friend’s life. The vigil will be held from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Swasey Park in Exeter.
“Whatever he did, he would make an impact,” Clark said. “He didn’t realize the potential that he had. He was very humble that way.” Wilkinson’s father would not say if he knew the three men charged with his son’s slaying or discuss any other details of the case.
“We’re working through this,” he said when reached by telephone.
Carroll thanked all the police agencies involved in the two-state investigation and the state Attorney General’s Office.
“I tip my hat to these people for their professionalism and their compassion. They’re excellent,” Carroll said.
“I just look up to them more than ever before,” he added.
According to the New Hampshire court system, none of the three suspects has a criminal record.
Only Wolusky has a prior offense, which was a 2009 violation-level charge for possession of tobacco by a minor. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to perform five days of community service.
Tatum’s Facebook page shows a post made June 24 promoting Wilkinson’s Memorial Walk, an event friends organized for Friday.
The three suspects, who entered no plea in court Thursday, are facing the possibility of life without parole if they are convicted by a jury. A probable cause hearing for the trio is set for July 14.
New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Kathryn Marchocki contributed to this report.