Prosecutors: Pembroke man who shot girlfriend was familiar, safe with guns
Two days before Dale Collinge fatally shot his girlfriend the woman snapped four photos of him aiming a rifle, the barrel pointed away from the camera, as he posed in underwear and a cowboy hat, according to court documents.
Prosecutors want to use those photos at Collinge’s trial, not to show that the Pembroke man was reckless with firearms but that he was cautious, saying it was no accident when he later aimed that same rifle directly at Karen Boelzner and pulled the trigger.
The “photographs depict that, even when engaging in such buffoonery with that deadly weapon, the defendant recognized and still engaged in a certain level of care, such as directing the firearm away from the photographer and completely disengaging the bolt action level used to load a live round into the chamber,” a prosecutor wrote in a motion filed at Merrimack County Superior Court.
Collinge is facing a second-degree murder charge after the police say he admitted to shooting 50-year-old Boelzner on Nov. 13, 2011, at the apartment they shared in Pembroke. The case is scheduled to go to trial in May.
To convict 49-year-old Collinge prosecutors will need to convince a jury that he knowingly murdered Boelzner while showing an extreme indifference for human life. Collinge, though, claims the shooting was a terrible accident that came after Boelzner first pointed the gun at him, according to the police.
On that day Collinge walked into his living room and found Boelzner pointing the rifle at his head, according to an affidavit in the case. Collinge claimed Boelzner then pulled the trigger but she hadn’t chambered the bullet.
Collinge told the police that he grabbed the rifle because he was scared and wanted her to feel the same fear.
“You wanna play gun-gun with me?” he asked Boelzner, according to the affidavit.
He cocked the rifle and pulled the trigger, shooting Boelzner in the head, the police said.
According to the affidavit, Collinge didn’t know the gun was loaded.
A recent court filing by Collinge’s lawyers, though, hints at another line of defense: that Boelzner was mentally unstable and Collinge shot her because he was in shock and thought he was in danger.
The defense attorneys believe they may be able to prove that theory by gaining access to Boelzner’s counseling and therapy records as well as an application she filed for social security disability status based on her mental health. According to their motion, Boelzner’s close family members have told the police that she had a history of mental health issues, had attempted suicide and suffered from frequent and unexpected mood swings.
Collinge told the police that when he found Boelzner pointing the gun at him, he believed she was “going through one of her episodes,” according to the motion.
“Especially knowing that she’s not in the right frame of mind at all times and knowing that she was drinking and maybe could have been looking at me thinking I’m somebody else, you know,” Collinge told the police, according to his lawyers’ motion. “I just did what I had to do to protect myself I think.”
The attorneys argue that Collinge was not acting recklessly during the incident – as prosecutors have alleged through the second-degree murder charge – and was simply reacting “in shock at having a gun pointed at him by a woman whom he knew to be mentally unstable and possibly suicidal.”
Boelzner’s medical records may shed light on Collinge’s mental state at the time of the shooting by describing the “nature of their relationship and how they interacted with each other” as well as explain Collinge’s reaction “to the totally unexpected scenario he found himself facing,” according to the lawyers.
Prosecutors, though, argue that the defense’s characterization of the shooting left out several vital points – that Collinge pulled the rifle out of Boelzner’s hands, turned the gun on the then-unarmed victim and pulled the trigger. And while the defense is now suggesting Collinge was concerned for his safety, the prosecutors contend that’s inconsistent with what he told many people directly after the shooting, including the police, medical personnel and his landlord.
The prosecutors also argue that the records may shed light on Boelzner’s mental state at the time of the shooting but not Collinge’s.
“Indeed, even had the victim been in a full-blown psychotic episode when the defendant shot and killed her, such would not be relevant to the defendant’s mental state when he shot and killed her,” the prosecutors wrote in their objection.
A judge has not ruled yet on the two pending motions. A hearing has been scheduled for April 16.
In the state’s motion to show Collinge’s familiarity with firearms, prosecutors are asking to use two of the four cell phone photographs but also evidence that Collinge used the rifle to go deer hunting and target shooting in the days before the incident. According to prosecutors, Collinge was responsible with firearms and even gave instructions to others on how to safely handle weapons.
“Of course, the defendant’s familiarity with that particular gun bears directly on the degree of his carelessness in subsequently handling it when he shot the victim,” the prosecutors said in their motion.
Collinge’s lawyers have not responded to that motion, though they did successfully ask to have the pictures sealed from public view, arguing the photos had the potential to jeopardize Collinge’s ability to find an impartial jury.
Multiple messages left last week with Suzanne Ketteridge, one of Collinge’s public defenders, were not returned.