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Stun gun attack trial opens

Pregnant woman alleges road rage

As she stands trial on charges she stun-gunned a pregnant driver in a fit of road rage along Interstate 93 last March, a Pembroke woman is arguing she didn't escalate the dispute, claiming the driver tried to run her off the road.

Carissa Williams, 23, acknowledged rolling down her window on Manchester Street and telling the woman to get off her cell phone. And she admitted carrying a stun gun when she went up to the woman at the Exit 14 offramp and opened the door to her back seat, though she said she didn't use it.

But apart from Williams's version of events, jurors deciding the case have another question to consider: Does using a stun gun on a pregnant woman endanger the life of her fetus?

That's the allegation from prosecutors, who brought Williams to trial in Merrimack County Superior Court yesterday on a second-degree assault charge alleging she shocked Corrine Leclair-Holler with a stun gun after the woman repeatedly told Williams she was pregnant.

While the charge can apply to assaults that lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth, Leclair-Holler - who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time of the incident - delivered her baby without complications. Instead, the state charged Williams under the provision for an assault committed "under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life."

Prosecutors couldn't charge Williams - who also faces misdemeanor charges - with another form of felony assault, since a stun gun isn't a deadly weapon, said Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray.

But his argument for the charge came under attack before the start of yesterday's trial. The alleged victim in the case is Leclair-Holler, not the fetus, said public defender Tracy Scavarelli, asking Judge Larry Smukler to dismiss the indictment.

"The state is saying that the extreme indifference is to the value of human life . . . (but) they are not indicating who they are attributing that to," Scavarelli said.

Smukler denied her motion after Assistant County Attorney George Waldron said Leclair-Holler's pregnancy was relevant to the charge.

"She has to take the victim as she found her," Waldron said of Williams, arguing that an assault on a person who was quadriplegic would lead to a more serious charge than a similar attack on a person without a disability.

He and Murray later called Chief Medical Examiner Thomas Andrew to testify to the effects of an electric shock on a fetus.

While the situation is rare, mothers have miscarried after experiencing electrical shocks from appliances or downed power wires, Andrew said. He said amniotic fluid conducts electricity so well that a strong-enough shock can cause a fetus's heart to stop, even if the mother isn't harmed.

But there's little evidence of the effects of stun guns on pregnant women, said Scavarelli, as she cross-examined Andrew.

"No one can legitimately do research on this issue," Andrew countered. "It would be barbaric." He said the National Institute for Justice recommends that stun guns not be used on pregnant women.

Scavarelli asked Andrew whether there were any known cases of miscarriage resulting from the use of the type of stun gun Williams carried. Andrew said there weren't.

In her opening argument, Scavarelli said Williams, as a young mother, carried a stun gun for protection. "Some people arm themselves with guns, others with pepper spray," she said.

She said Williams's actions during the incident represented "split-second decisions to protect the ones you love."

On that day in March 2011, Williams was taking her daughter, then 6 months old, to get immunization shots when she noticed a driver in front of her talking on her cell phone and smoking a cigarette, Scavarelli said.

Williams, irritated by the woman's swerving, pulled up next to her and told her to get off the phone, Scavarelli said. The driver yelled back and then followed Williams for more than eight miles onto Interstate 93 north, at one point trying to push Williams's car into oncoming traffic and off the road, Scavarelli said.

Williams, who got off at Exit 14, "just wanted the driver of the red car to stop following her," Scavarelli said. With "adrenaline pumping through her body," she got out of her car - armed with her stun gun - and went up to the car behind her, yelling "stop following me," Scavarelli said.

After opening the driver's car door and realizing she was "equally as scared," Williams left, Scavarelli said.

Jurors heard that fear yesterday as prosecutors played the tape of the 911 call made by Leclair-Holler.

Leclair-Holler, who called 911 to report that Williams was "chucking stuff at my car," was trying to relay Williams's license plate number when the young woman got out of her car.

"She's getting out of her car and coming at me," Leclair-Holler says, her voice growing panicked. Screams follow, and then a woman is heard crying.

"She hit you with a (stun gun)?" the dispatcher later says. "Is she gone now?"

The dispatcher told Leclair-Holler to pull over, and police officers met her in a parking lot off Fort Eddy Road.

Leclair-Holler - who left the courtroom as that tape played yesterday - later took the witness stand and said Williams pulled up beside her that day on Manchester Street and yelled at her for holding up traffic.

"I told her the speed limit was 35, which is what I was doing," Leclair-Holler said.

Williams then started throwing things at her car, possibly a coffee mug, Leclair-Holler said. She said she called 911 and was following Williams to get her license plate number, although she said she never got close enough to drive Williams off the road.

When they pulled off at Exit 14, the confrontation with Williams "happened really fast," Leclair-Holler said. The light was red when Williams got out of her car, and "by the time the light was green, she was already on the way out," Leclair-Holler said.

Besides the second-degree assault charge, Williams is charged with simple assault, criminal trespass and endangering the welfare of a child. The last of those charges alleges she left her daughter alone in the car during the Exit 14 incident.

The trial continues today in Merrimack County Superior Court. Prosecutors, who called several police officers to the stand yesterday, expect to call one more witness.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)

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