McLeod case on hold while appeal is filed

Prosecutors in the case against a former Keene man accused in a fatal 1989 fire plan to appeal a ruling that could damage their case. Continue reading

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Man accused of shooting fiance arraigned; bride in court

BRATTLEBORO — A Vermont man told police he was trying to unload a shotgun with one hand while driving when he shot his fiancee in the leg last month, according to court documents.

Robert P. Nantell, 44, of Vernon, was arraigned Tuesday morning in the Windham Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court on charges of first-degree aggravated domestic assault, simple assault with a weapon and reckless endangerment. He pleaded not guilty through a public defender. Continue reading

Woman central to McLeod case died six years ago

As she awoke to flames on her bed, Sandra E. Walker tried smothering the fire with her hands before running to her bathroom and filling a coffee pot with water.

But as she returned to douse the blaze, as she would later describe to police, the fire had spread across the bed and the area around it.

Realizing she’d be unable to extinguish the fire, Walker said she ran out of her second-floor apartment, banging on the walls to wake up residents in other apartments in the High Street building.

Steve Hooper/Keene Sentinel

A family of four across the hall — Carl R. Hina, his wife of only three weeks, Lori M. Hina, their 4-month-old daughter, Lillian, and Carl’s 12-year-old daughter, Sara Jean — awoke to the commotion and dressed. But they wouldn’t make it out alive.

At 2:25 a.m., dispatchers from Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid in Keene sent fire trucks to the building, located only a few blocks from the fire station. The first truck arrived four minutes later, dispatch records showed.

Firefighters searched the building for survivors, but never reached the Hinas as they navigated through a building quickly filling with an inky haze that cut visibility to zero, fire officials would say.

The family would later be found in a back room in the apartment, killed by smoke inhalation, according to a medical examiner. Cuts found on Carl Hina’s hands indicated they may have tried to escape by breaking a window, officials told The Sentinel in the days following the Jan. 14, 1989, fire. Continue reading

Trying to close a cold case

A murder trial scheduled to begin Monday in a deadly fire has been postponed by a legal challenge that may keep the prosecution’s fire experts from testifying that they believe the fire was intentionally set.

Keene Sentinel file photo

David B. McLeod, 55, of Sacramento, Calif., was charged in June 2010 with four counts of second-degree murder for the 1989 deaths of newlyweds Carl R. and Lori M. Hina, their 4-month-old daughter Lillian, and Carl’s 12-year-old daughter Sara Jean.

Prosecutors say McLeod started the fire that killed the Hinas and they plan to bring in fire science experts to testify that the fire was caused by arson.

But attorneys for McLeod argue that since the experts based their findings on the statements of a woman who died more than six years ago, McLeod’s constitutional rights would be violated because she couldn’t be questioned in court. Continue reading

Up all night

State resources added in underage drinking initiative in college towns

They begin trickling into the streets Saturday about 9 p.m. in ones and twos, eagerly making their way to early parties or heading to downtown bars.

By shortly after 10 p.m., the groups of college students have swelled into the dozens. They pass in waves along the narrow streets surrounding the Keene State College campus — a mass of the freshly primped marching to the cadence of clicking heels, excited chatter and laughter.
It’s a common weekend sight in Keene during the school year.
In the first few weeks of classes, the Keene Police Department typically brings on two extra officers to patrol on weekend nights, said Lt. Steven M. Stewart, a supervisor in the department’s patrol bureau.
This weekend, they had extra backup in the form of a “saturation” detail by the N.H. State Liquor Commission aimed at combating underage drinking. Continue reading

In Brattleboro, adjusting to a new normal

Michael Moore/Keene Sentinel

BRATTLEBORO — A day after hundreds of people gathered to mourn a deadly shooting at a local cooperative grocery store, employees at the Brattleboro Food Co-op quietly got back to business Thursday morning.

When the store’s doors opened at 8 a.m., it was the first time shoppers had been in the co-op since the Tuesday morning shooting involving two employees that police say was sparked by a workplace dispute.

At opening time, employees, co-op members and customers began getting back to a new normal, which was changed forever after 59-year-old store manager Michael Martin of Dummerston, Vt., was fatally shot in his office at the store.

A co-worker, Richard E. Gagnon, also 59, of Marlboro, Vt., is jailed in connection with the shooting, accused of first-degree murder.

As customers arrived Thursday morning toting reusable bags, some stopped outside, embracing and speaking over the clatter of nearby construction work on a new co-op and apartment complex.

Some of those arriving on foot crossed a pedestrian bridge — its red bricks splattered with candle wax drippings from the previous night’s vigil — where flowers had been woven into the iron handrails.

A few passers-by cast sidelong glances at the pale green building as they headed down the path.

Inside the store, co-op workers busily readied for the day, brewing coffee, stocking shelves and stacking rows of organic fruits and vegetables.

Solemn faces stretched into kind smiles as shoppers offered hugs and words of support to the employees and other customers. Continue reading

Suspect arrested with gun in hand

BRATTLEBORO — A Marlboro, Vt., man faces a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of a co-worker at the Brattleboro Food Co-op apparently sparked by a workplace disagreement.

Michael Moore/Keene Sentinel

Richard E. Gagnon, 59, appeared Wednesday afternoon in Windham Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court wearing shackles over a gray sweatsuit, a day after police say he shot store manager Michael Martin, also 59, of Dummerston, Vt., at the downtown grocery store.

On Friday the two men had argued about Gagnon’s employment after Martin offered Gagnon a severance package if he resigned from the co-op, and Gagnon had called in sick on Monday, according to a police affidavit released after Gagnon’s arraignment.

When he was arrested outside the co-op minutes after Tuesday morning’s shooting, Gagnon was holding a loaded handgun and carrying an extra ammunition magazine and a copy of his latest performance evaluation dated in May, the affidavit said. Continue reading