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Convicted murderer Robert Breest seeks new trial in 1971 slaying of Susan Randall

Robert Breest, on trial for the murder of Manchester teen Susie Randall in 1973, Ismokes a cigarette during a jury view at the bridge on Interstate 93 in Concord where Breest was accused of having dropped Randall’s body onto the frozen Merrimack River.

Robert Breest, on trial for the murder of Manchester teen Susie Randall in 1973, Ismokes a cigarette during a jury view at the bridge on Interstate 93 in Concord where Breest was accused of having dropped Randall’s body onto the frozen Merrimack River.

In the 40 years since a jury convicted him of murdering a woman whose beaten and half-naked body was found on the frozen Merrimack River in Concord, Robert Breest has maintained he is innocent and filed numerous appeals, all unsuccessful.

In his latest effort, he’s seeking a new trial on the basis of DNA evidence that his lawyers say indicates 18-year-old Susan Randall was attacked by two men in 1971, at least one of whom was not Breest. (Four previous rounds of DNA testing had failed to exonerate Breest.)

A team of lawyers filed a motion Friday in Merrimack County Superior Court seeking a new trial for Breest, arguing in a 109-page legal memorandum that “science has cast new light into the dark corners of this case” and revealed “a crime that looks nothing like the one the state presented at trial.”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin declined to comment, saying state prosecutors would respond in court.

Breest, now 75, has been eligible for parole since 1995, but has refused to comply with conditions that he admit to the crime and complete a sex offender treatment program. His next parole hearing is May 9.

Randall’s sister, Sally Hembree, said yesterday she has no doubt Breest is guilty. She doesn’t think he should ever be released from prison. And she’s tired of his appeals.

“He’s like the bad penny that proverbially shows up.
. . . It hasn’t stopped, not in 40 years,” Hembree said.

Randall was last seen in Manchester the night of Feb. 28, 1971. Her body was discovered March 2 on the frozen river in Concord, badly beaten and naked from the waist down.

Breest, a Massachusetts resident, was arrested and charged with the murder. At trial, prosecutors presented a case that included physical evidence indicating Randall had been in his car and testimony from a man named David Carita who said Breest had confessed to him while both were in jail.

In March 1973, a jury found Breest guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 40 years (less with good behavior) under a state law for “psychosexual” murders that had never been used before and hasn’t been used since.

Breest subsequently filed multiple appeals in both state and federal courts, all unsuccessful. In 2000, he began petitioning the courts for DNA testing of blood that had been found underneath Randall’s fingernails. An initial test was inconclusive and a second test found Breest could not be excluded as a suspect, as did a third test.

A fourth round of testing followed in 2008, and prosecutors said the results appeared to confirm Breest’s guilt. Will Delker, then a senior assistant attorney general and now a superior court judge, said the evidence went beyond a reasonable doubt: “We’re at virtual certainty.”

But in their filing Friday, attorney Albert Scherr and four other lawyers wrote that while the 2008 test “concluded that Breest and all of his male relatives could not be excluded as the source of the male DNA under Randall’s fingernails,” a new test was performed in 2012 using what the lawyers described as a more advanced technology.

That test, they wrote, found at least three people’s DNA present: Randall’s, a man who definitely was not Breest and a man who may or may not have been Breest.

“Statistics aside, these DNA test results demonstrate conclusively that the state’s theory of the case was wrong, and that David Carita was lying when he testified that Breest confessed to killing Randall with nobody around,” they wrote. “Whoever killed Randall did not act alone.”

That, they said, entitles Breest to a new trial.

“At the end of a new trial on this evidence, Breest would likely be released,” they wrote. “Released after more than 40 years. Released into the arms of his wife and family, who have stood by him across the decades. The beginning of the end is now; Robert Breest is entitled to a new trial.”

There may be problems with the test, however. Edward Blake, a forensic scientist, told The Boston Globe last week that it’s “very unusual” for so many tests to be performed on such a small sample, which could lead to reliability issues.

And Breest is suspected in a second murder, the death of Luella Blakeslee, a 29-year-old teacher who disappeared in 1969 and whose remains were discovered buried in Hopkinton in 1998. Breest has denied involvement, but the attorney general’s office says he’s still a suspect in the unsolved case.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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