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Murderer due in court to try for early release

  • FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2006, file photo Eric Windhurst sits between his lawyers Mark Sisti, left, and Aime Cook in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H. Windhurst, who got away with murder for 20 years now wants his sentence reduced to the 10 years he’s already served. Windhurst was 17 when he fatally shot a friend’s stepfather, Paquette, after the friend told him that Paquettte had sexually abused her. A hearing is set for April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File) JIM COLE

  • FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2005, file photo Eric Windhurst walks into the Hooksett District Court in Hooksett, N.H., charged with the shooting death of Danny Paquette. Windhurst, who got away with murder for 20 years now wants his sentence reduced to the 10 years he’s already served. Windhurst was 17 when he fatally shot a friend’s stepfather, Paquette, after the friend told him that Paquettte had sexually abused her. A hearing is set for April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File) JIM COLE

  • FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2006, file photo Melanie Copper looks back at her children after being sentenced to three to six years in prison for her part in helping her stepfather's murder. The death went unsolved for two decades, until Copper cooperated with police and Eric Windhurst pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to a minimum 15-year prison term. He's now asking for a sentence reduction. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File) Jim Cole



Monitor Staff
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Eric Windhurst, the Hopkinton carpenter who pleaded guilty 10 years ago to murdering a friend’s abusive stepfather in a crime that went unsolved for two decades, is expected in court Thursday as part of an effort to win early release.

Windhurst was 17 at the time of the 1985 killing, a high school junior at Hopkinton High School. He fatally shot Danny Paquette in the heart after the friend, Melanie Cooper, told him Paquette had sexually abused her.

The death remained a mystery until 2004, when Cooper opened up to authorities and agreed to help gather evidence against Windhurst. He was arrested the next year and pleaded guilty in 2006 to second-degree murder, in exchange for a prison sentence of 15 to 36 years. He is asking to suspend the rest of his minimum.  

Cooper received three to six years for hindering apprehension, which was reduced to 15 months. She was released from custody in 2008.

In a brief filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, Windhurst’s attorney, Mark Sisti, claimed Cooper had manipulated Windhurst into carrying out the attack. Given her reduced sentence, he wrote, “it is only just that Mr. Windhurst, whose involvement was prompted by Ms. Cooper, also be allowed to return to the community.”

Prosecutors have countered that Windhurst’s real motive was anger over having just discovered that his own father sexually abused his sisters. They say Paquette’s family objects to any reduction.

Windhurst has received significant community support over the years, and several people from Hopkinton and elsewhere have sent letters on his behalf to Sisti and the court. Windhurst has also completed job training and several non-violence seminars in prison – neither of which, prosecutors argue, is reason to shave five years off his sentence.

“The good behavior and strides he has made in prison will benefit him when he comes up for parole and when he is eventually released,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin wrote in a brief. “He should not get a double-benefit with a sentence reduction.”

If released, Windhurst plans to live with his parents in Hopkinton. Windhurst’s father, John Windhurst, was never charged with sexual abuse. Strelzin said in 2008 that authorities considered bringing charges after learning of the abuse allegations but determined that the statute of limitations had expired.

​(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)