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Hopkinton killer seeking early release to judge: I’ll live with guilt “hour by hour, forever”

  • Eric Windhurst, right, sits with his lawyer Mark Sisti Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H. Windhurst pleased guilty to killing Danny Pauquette in a murder case that went unsolved for 20-years and was sentenced to 15-years in jail. After serving 10-years of his 15-year sentence, Windhurst is asking for his sentence to be reduced. The judge says he'll rule at a later date. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole



Monitor staff
Friday, April 22, 2016

Eric Windhurst stood before a packed courtroom in Concord on Thursday and tried, once again, to explain the guilt he has carried for the past 31 years over the murder he committed as an angry, shaken 17-year-old kid.

“I made Danny a part of my life, hour by hour, forever,” he said, choking back tears as he named his victim, Daniel Paquette of Hopkinton, whom he shot dead in November 1985.

“I’m so sorry,” he added, over and over.

Windhurst carried out the attack after a friend confided that she had been sexually abused by Paquette, her stepfather. It was a crime they managed to conceal for nearly 20 years, until the friend, Melanie Cooper, came clean to authorities in 2004. Windhurst eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received 15 to 36 years in prison. Earlier this year, he asked that the remainder of his minimum, just over four years, be suspended.

It’s a request that rarely succeeds and that Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara showed no outward signs of granting Thursday. Though he did not issue a final ruling, he expressed deep concern for people taking justice into their own hands, and said 15 years is a considerably light sentence as it is.

“We can’t have vigilante justice,” McNamara said, expanding on an earlier remark from prosecutor Jeffrey Strelzin.

A written order is expected shortly. Under New Hampshire law, McNamara can deny the petition on any grounds, and neither side has the right to appeal.

Windhurst was a junior at Hopkinton High School at the time of the murder. Cooper was just 15. They were on the same soccer team.

“I didn’t know Danny,” Windhurst said Thursday, reading a prepared statement. “I’d never even met him – I’d just learned his name a week earlier. It’s almost unbelievable to consider when I say it out loud.”

Windhurst now claims that Cooper manipulated him into carrying out the attack. Cooper has said she was not with him when he shot Paquette, but Windhurst’s attorney, Mark Sisti, said she was the only one who could have pointed Paquette out to him from the distance where he was standing.

Cooper received a reduced 15-month sentence for hindering arrest and was not present Thursday. Strelzin denied that she played any direct part in the killing, and said Windhurst’s real motive was outrage over having just discovered that his own father sexually abused his sisters.

“For the Paquette family,” he said, motioning to several of the victim’s relatives behind him, “all they want is a small measure of justice. And asking the defendant to serve his minimum is that small measure of justice.”

“Mr. Windhurst’s family, they bore the brunt too – his decisions hurt everybody,” Strelzin continued. “But they get him back. In five years, when he’s served his sentence, they get him back. They,” he said, turning to Paquette’s relatives, “never get Danny back.”

Windhurst, now 48, has received an outpouring of support from friends and former clients in Hopkinton, where he worked as a carpenter until his arrest. Several supporters told McNamara they would not hesitate to welcome Windhurst back into their homes and had no doubts he’s a changed man.

“I feel like I knew a different Eric than the irresponsible teenager who took a man’s life,” said Tom Kerins, a friend whose nieces were classmates of Windhurst.

“He took a lot of pride in his work,” Kerins said. “He’s a very serious person. That’s the Eric I know.”

Sisti noted that Windhurst has been a model prisoner, completing “every program asked of him.”

“I don’t come before justices that often asking for this,” he said. “Eric Windhurst is an exceptional case. Eric Windhurst fits into what the legislative intent on sentence reduction is all about.”

Paquette’s relatives openly disagreed, and noted that Windhurst only admitted the crime after being ratted out.

“I think he has a real debt to pay, and he hasn’t come close,” said Paquette’s brother, Victor.

“Everybody’s liable to a contract, and this is a contract,” Paquette’s nephew, Arthur Paquette, told the court. “Fulfill it.”

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