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Jury hears closing arguments, begins deliberation in Dale Collinge’s murder trial

Dale Collinge is arraigned at Hooksett District Court on charges of second degree murder after being arrested in Pembroke; Monday, November 13, 2011. 

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

Dale Collinge is arraigned at Hooksett District Court on charges of second degree murder after being arrested in Pembroke; Monday, November 13, 2011. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

4:21 p.m : The jury did not reach a verdict today and will continue deliberations at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

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2:00 p.m.: Dale Collinge’s lawyers argued today that the jury should find him guilty – but not of the crime he’s been charged with.

In closing arguments during the Pembroke man’s trial, attorney Donna Brown said prosecutors haven’t proven he acted recklessly, an element of second-degree murder that means someone made a conscious decision to disregard a known risk. She asked the jury to instead find 49-year-old Collinge guilty of negligent homicide, a crime that indicates he failed to become aware of a substantial risk and acted in a way that a reasonable person wouldn’t.

Throughout Collinge’s trial, now in its fourth day at Merrimack County Superior Court, the defense team has argued there was nothing conscious about the way he reacted to having Karen Boelzner first point a gun at him on Nov. 13, 2011, in the apartment they shared in Pembroke. They believe Collinge suffered psychological trauma in that moment so severe that his mind failed to function properly in the seconds after.

Collinge has admitted to turning the gun on Boelzner and pulling the trigger, but as proof that he wasn’t aware of those actions his attorneys have pointed to inconsistencies in his statement to investigators they say indicate memory loss.

If the jury downgrades the charge from second-degree murder to negligent homicide, Collinge’s possible sentence would drop from up to life incarceration to 3½ to seven years in state prison. The jury could also find him guilty of manslaughter, which falls between the other two in severity and indicates a person acted recklessly but didn’t show an extreme indifference to the value of human life, like second-degree murder does.

But Brown argued that even manslaughter isn’t appropriate because Collinge, who was an avid hunter and always observed safe gun practices, would have never deliberately pointed a rifle at a woman he loved.

“That was not Dale who shot Karen, at least not at a conscious level, at least not at a conscious level,” Brown said. “Because a Dale Collinge who is acting at a conscious level who was thinking wouldn’t have pointed that gun, wouldn’t have pulled that trigger. Because he knew better. It’s proof that he wasn’t thinking. He was reacting.”

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley, though, accused the defense of faking Collinge’s memory loss, presenting the jury with “psycho babble” and trying to pass off a murder as an accident. He said Collinge told eight separate people that he was aware of manipulating the rifle’s bolt and pulling the trigger and repeated that he had done so because he wanted to teach Boelzner a lesson.

He said the defense has attempted the blame the victim in the case by presenting testimony that she was suicidal and suffered from severe mood swings. And he argued that it’s not what provoked Collinge, but how he reacted, that matters.

“The point isn’t that he didn’t think the gun was loaded. The point, what this case is about, is that he never checked. Basic safety,” Hinckley said. “He didn’t know that it was unloaded when he manipulated that bolt. He didn’t know that it was unloaded when he aimed that gun from just feet away. He didn’t know that it was unloaded when he pulled that trigger.”

He said Collinge’s failure to check constitutes more than just negligence.

“That’s extreme carelessness,” he said. “It’s willful disregard of basic safety.”

The jury began deliberating at about noon. Check back on concordmonitor.com for updates on this story.

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

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