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County prosecutor moves to amend Houghton indictments in sex assault case

Two weeks before the opening of James Houghton’s second criminal trial, on several counts of rape and incest, a county prosecutor has indicated that the victim in the case mistook the dates of one of the alleged offenses.

In a motion submitted Thursday, Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Rachel Harrington asked to amend two of Houghton’s indictments, which claim he sexually assaulted a now-26-year-old nonblood relative in Concord between June 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009. In an interview this month with an investigator, Harrington wrote, the woman said the offense actually took place between May 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010.

Houghton’s attorneys have objected to the changes, arguing Thursday in Merrimack County Superior Court that they are substantive, may alter their strategy at trial and raise questions about the woman’s credibility.

“Suppose the grand jury had heard the conflicting statements,” defense lawyer James Quay said. “They might not have indicted.”

In her brief, Harrington countered that the timing of the offense is not a factor in this case, and that altering it “will neither affect a change in the offense nor add an offense.”

Quay and co-counsel Melinda Siranian have asked to interview the victim, and for all notes pertaining to the conversations she had with county officials earlier this month. The state has objected to the deposition. The judge in the case, Larry Smukler, had yet to issue an order on the requests yesterday afternoon, according to court clerks.

Houghton, 59, faces seven additional counts of sexual assault and two counts of incest, allegedly involving the same victim but occurring in Henniker between 2004 to 2011. He was convicted this fall on 23 felony counts of possessing child pornography, for which he has yet to be sentenced. He is also accused of molesting a now-10-year-old Concord girl in 2012 and of tampering with a witness, but those charges have yet to go to trial.

Houghton’s next trial, originally scheduled to begin this month, will open Feb. 10.

Earlier this month, Smukler barred Harrington from showing a jury lewd images of the alleged victim, recovered from Houghton’s laptop, reasoning that they have no direct bearing on the charges and would create an overwhelming bias.

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

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