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State Supreme Court hears convicted killer Gribble’s appeal in Mont Vernon case

The lawyer for a man seeking to reverse his conviction for the murder of a woman hacked to death with a machete and knife said jurors knew too much about the case and were emotionally influenced by the crimes. A prosecutor countered that there wasn’t a county in the state where potential jurors hadn’t heard of the gruesome attacks.

Public defender Stephanie Hausman argued yesterday that the state Supreme Court should order a new trial for 23-year-old Christopher Gribble of Brookline. She said the trial should have been moved out of Hillsborough County, where the 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion occurred.

Gribble is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for killing 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and maiming her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie. He and Steven Spader were convicted of first-degree murder and multiple other felonies.

Gribble was one of five men who broke into the Cates’s home Oct. 4, 2009. They crept to the master bedroom, and Gribble testified that he and Spader stood on either side of the bed in the master bedroom where the mother and daughter lay asleep. They began stabbing and slashing the two repeatedly – Spader wielding the machete and Gribble a knife. Gribble stabbed Jaimie repeatedly with the knife, then used it to slit her mother’s throat to be sure she was dead.

Hausman argued the trial should have been moved to a different county because of the publicity about Spader’s trial, which preceded Gribble’s trial by a few months.

“Here we have the kind of crimes that evoke visceral reactions,” Hausman said. She noted that 60 percent of the jurors who decided Gribble’s fate had been involved in discussions about the crimes before being called for jury duty.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley argued that no matter where Gribble’s trial was held, there would be jurors who knew about the case.

“This wasn’t just known statewide, this was a national case,” Hinckley said, listing the national news organizations that covered both Gribble’s and Spader’s trials.

Gribble was convicted in March 2011, after a jury rejected his defense of insanity.

Hausman also challenged the admission of Gribble’s detailed confession to a state police detective, which he gave after saying he didn’t want to talk anymore. She told the justices the detective who recorded the confession did not “scrupulous honor” Gribble’s decision to end the interrogation.

Hinckley countered that it was Gribble who instructed the detective to go and get his tape recorder, stating, “I’ll tell you everything.”

“He went to get a tape recorder,” Hinckley said of the detective. “He didn’t have a recorder because he had no expectation he (Gribble) was going to speak.”

Hinckley said Gribble was motivated by information the detective told him they knew about the crimes, which made it clear some of the other four suspects were talking. Hinckley emphasized that Gribble’s case was not about guilt – which Gribble acknowledged – but about the insanity defense and whether Gribble should be legally liable for his actions.

Gribble is also challenging the instruction Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson gave on insanity, saying it was weighted toward the state’s case.

Gribble’s lawyers asked the judge during the trial to give an instruction that did include factors for jurors to consider, including his immaturity and lack of social skills. Abramson denied that request and gave instructions that included examples – in one instance, telling jurors, “You may also consider whether the defendant acted impulsively or acted with cunning and planning in executing his crimes and escaping without detection.”

Hinckley argued that Gribble’s trial lawyers were trying to “tailor” the instructions to fit Gribble’s psyche. He said the instructions given were “very objective” and characterized the defense’s case for insanity “extremely weak.”

The justices did not indicate when they will issue a ruling.

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