N.H. Supreme Court upholds Gribble’s conviction in home invasion-murder case
The New Hampshire Supreme Court yesterday rejected the appeal of a man who sought to reverse his conviction for the murder of a woman hacked with a machete, keeping with its tradition of turning down appeals based on a trial judge’s refusal to move high-profile trials to another county.
“Prominence does not necessarily produce prejudice,” the justices quoted from a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in their unanimous decision.
Christopher Gribble, 23, of Brookline, was convicted in March 2011 of stabbing and hacking to death 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and maiming her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie, in their Mont Vernon home. Gribble used a knife while accomplice Steven Spader rained multiple blows with a machete to both victims.
Spader was convicted four months before Gribble went on trial. Gribble admitted his involvement in the killings – including slashing Kimberly Cates’s throat – but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury convicted him after two hours of deliberations.
Both men were tried in Hillsborough County, which the court noted is New Hampshire’s most populous county, with more than 400,000 residents. And while some news articles submitted to the court by appellate attorney Stephanie Hausman contained words such as “gruesome,” “horrific” and “depravity,” the court ruled that the “overwhelming amount of the material submitted consists of straightforward, factual accounts of the crimes as recounted at Spader’s trial.”
The court cited several other sensational cases in which a change of venue was denied, including the conviction of former high school teacher Pamela Smart, who enlisted her student lover to kill her 24-year-old husband in 1990. The court also referred to the capital murder trial of Michael Addison, who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. Addison’s appeal is pending.
The court ruled that in today’s “information age,” it would be difficult to find 12 jurors who don’t have some knowledge about the facts of the case.
“Given the nature of the crimes in this case, the defendant could not reasonably have expected to remain anonymous,” Justice James Bassett wrote.
Bassett stated that the justices reviewed the 2,347 pages of transcripts of jury selection conducted over the course of eight days in Gribble’s case. They noted that Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson “went to great lengths to ensure that the empanelled jury was fair and impartial.”
The court also rejected Gribble’s claims that a state trooper violated his right to remain silent and that Abramson’s jury instructions were skewed to favor the state’s case.
During a four-hour interrogation the day after the crime, Gribble consistently proclaimed his innocence and ultimately said he didn’t want to talk any more. About a half-hour later, he motioned detective John Encarnacao back into the interview room and began questioning him about his job before directing him to get his tape recorder, saying, “I’ll tell you everything.”
The court ruled that Encarnacao’s conversation with Gribble, in which he answered Gribble’s various inquiries, did not amount to an interrogation.
The justices also upheld Abramson’s instructions to the jury that they could consider whether Gribble “acted impulsively or acted with cunning and planning in executing his crimes and escaping or avoiding detection.”
Gribble was also convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit burglary and witness tampering. He is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Spader last month was resentenced to life without possibility of parole plus 76 years. Spader, who was a month shy of turning 18 when the home invasion occurred, was required to be resentenced under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that threw out mandatory life in prison with parole for juveniles.
The high court’s ruling required Abramson to weigh Spader’s age and consider any possibility that it reduced his culpability but did not bar her from imposing a mandatory life sentence after doing so. Spader instructed his lawyers not to argue on his behalf and Abramson re-imposed her original sentence.