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Judge weighs relevance of mental health records in murder case

A Merrimack County judge seemed unconvinced yesterday that mental health records for Dale Collinge’s girlfriend will shed any light on his mental state at the time he shot and killed her.

While the Pembroke man’s lawyer has stressed that he was reacting to having the firearm first aimed at him, Judge Richard McNamara pointed out that Collinge isn’t claiming to have acted in self-defense when he pulled the rifle from Karen Boelzner and turned it on her.

“I’m just trying to understand,” McNamara said to public defender Donna Brown. “He thought she was suicidal. He thought she was dangerous. He thought she was a harm to him. But he not only has the weapon, he chambers it.”

Collinge, who wasn’t present at yesterday’s hearing, is facing a second-degree murder charge after the police say he admitted to shooting 50-year-old Boelzner on Nov. 13, 2011, in the apartment they shared in Pembroke. Collinge’s mental state is at the core of the case, with prosecutors arguing he acted knowingly
while showing an extreme indifference to human life and his attorneys believing that, at most, he acted recklessly or under an extreme emotional disturbance caused by provocation.

Brown has asked
McNamara to review Boelzner’s counseling and Social Security records, believing they could clarify what was going through Collinge’s mind in the moment he pulled the trigger.

In arguing that motion yesterday, Brown said Collinge knew Boelzner was unstable when she pointed the gun at him, having witnessed her history of terrifying mood swings and suicide attempts.

“Imagine how horrifying that would be, (not just) to look down the barrel of a gun, but to look down the barrel of a gun being held by a mentally unstable person who has been drinking,” Brown said.

She said Collinge described how unsettling that moment was in an interview with the police shortly after.

“He says, ‘Right, I go upstairs and she’s, well first I go out of the shower now, and now this is where it all goes blurry,’ ” Brown said, reading from a transcript of Collinge’s interview. “ ‘She’s screaming you know, kind of yelling at me, you know, and she’s
like, “I just want to die. I want to die. I’m going to take all these pills.” And there is a record of her trying to commit suicide.’ ”

Brown said that on eight occasions during the interview, Collinge referenced Boelzner’s instability as relating to his mental state at the time of the incident.

McNamara told Brown that she seemed to be looking for independent evidence to bolster Collinge’s take on Boelzner’s erratic behavior. He questioned whether witnesses could fill that role.

Brown said they could, but she also anticipated jurors wondering why the defense would put so much weight on Boelzner’s mental state without providing documentation or testimony from her doctors.

After taking in the argument, though, McNamara said, “There’s no question it’s a weak claim.”

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley agreed. Nevertheless, he told McNamara yesterday that he expects the judge will grant a private review of the records because reviewing them doesn’t mean they will end up at trial.

In arguing why McNamara shouldn’t even take that step, Hinckley said Collinge hadn’t seen Boelzner’s records when he shot her, so information in them couldn’t have affected his mental state.

He said prosecutors don’t plan to question that Collinge sincerely believed Boelzner had mental health issues because the fact is irrelevant to their case.

McNamara didn’t make a ruling yesterday. But he did wonder how Brown would go about gathering the records for a now deceased victim if he ruled in her favor.

“How can you get these records?” McNamara asked the attorney, who said a court order would go a long way when she approaches Boelzner’s former doctors.

Brown also said that she believes she can put together a list of those care providers through interviews with Boelzner’s family members and also with photos of the woman’s pill bottles taken at the crime scene.

McNamara said he’d issue an order on the motion at a later date. The case is
scheduled for trial in May, but several other motions are still pending, including one
from prosecutors, seeking to show Collinge was familiar with firearm safety before the shooting.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or
tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)

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