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Man gets 5 to 10 years in prison for crash that killed girlfriend

Robert Pitts

Robert Pitts

After an emotional court hearing yesterday, a judge sent a 19-year-old Weare man with a history of psychological struggles to prison for five to 10 years for leading the police on a car chase, crashing his car and killing his 19-year-old girlfriend in Concord a year ago.

The sentence, issued after Robert Pitts pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and other charges, fell between what the two lawyers in the case had sought.

In arguing for a lighter sentence, Pitts’s lawyer, Paul Maggiotto, told Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara that Pitts was racing down the highway because he believed his girlfriend was pregnant and in need of rescuing from her family.

Pitts would learn later from Paige Garneau’s autopsy report that she wasn’t pregnant.

“I think we have to recognize this wasn’t intentional homicide,” Maggiotto said. Pitts “doesn’t deserve to walk or get a very lenient sentence,” Maggiotto continued. “But take into consideration that Robert was told (by Paige) that Paige was pregnant and was being forced to live on the streets.”

Maggiotto, who also argued that Pitts has exhibited poor judgment since his mother left him when he was 2, asked for a sentence of four to eight years in prison. But Maggiotto asked that two years of the minimum be suspended, meaning Pitts could have been released in a year because he has already served a year awaiting trial.

“This was a dumb kid with his girlfriend, trying to run away together with an ill-plotted plan,” Maggiotto said.

Garneau’s family and prosecutor Wayne Coull disagreed and argued for something much stronger.

Garneau’s family would have liked a life sentence. “No amount of sorries will ever bring my Paige back,” her mother, Jenny Garneau of Laconia, said to Pitts. “Can you even say you have 10 percent of the heart she had? No, you can’t. You are a nonproductive piece of waste.”

Garneau’s grandfather, Alan Dame of Laconia, said he’s punished every time he drives by the scene of his granddaughter’s death, Exit 17 on Interstate 93 in Concord. “We have a life sentence now,” he said. After the hearing, Dame said he hoped Pitts’s punishment would deter others from repeating his behavior.

Coull asked McNamara for a seven- to 14-year prison sentence.

At the time of the crash, Pitts was on bail for setting a small fire outside a house. His bail conditions required him to stay at his father’s house and out of trouble, and he’d already violated his bail by not checking in with his bail officer, Coull said.

Pitts also didn’t have a driver’s license when he took his father’s car without permission Sept. 2, 2012, with Garneau in the passenger seat.

As Pitts drove south on I-93, two police cruisers followed, attempting to stop Pitts with lights and sirens, Coull said. Pitts refused to stop and was going nearly 60 mph when he took Exit 17 in Concord and crashed into a tree.

Coull asked McNamara to consider all of Pitts’s conduct, including the fire and his breach of bail, not just the crash.

Pitts “has no ability to control his behavior,” said Coull. “These (impulsive behaviors) have been known problems for a long time and good people have tried to work with (Pitts). The state is not unsympathetic to that, but it’s not working.”

Pitts was sentenced on four charges related to Garneau’s death and the fire he set: negligent homicide, disobeying a police officer, attempted criminal mischief and reckless conduct. During yesterday’s hearing, he occasionally glanced at Garneau’s family members when they addressed him.

“Despite everything, I have to forgive you for what you have done,” Garneau’s cousin, Christina Emmons of Belmont, told Pitts. “In order to be a good Christian and in order to go on and be a good human, I have to forgive you. I will never think of you again after today. But every day I hope you think of her.”

Reading from a written statement, Pitts responded to Garneau’s family.

“I am deeply sorry for what happened,” he said. “I still can’t believe that this tragic accident happened and that the girl I loved died. It was my attempt at helping Paige at a difficult time.”

Pitts continued. “My love for her overpowered my judgment.”

McNamara left the courtroom for his chambers to consider the testimony before issuing his sentence.

“I accept that you are not a psychopath, and I accept that you have deeply seated psychological issues,” McNamara told Pitts when he returned to the courtroom. He continued: “The problem here is that there were a number of poor choices. You chose to leave the house. You chose to drive without a license. And you chose not to stop when pursuing police (officers) put on their lights. All of these choices cascaded into what happened.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

At some point, I think the police have to evaluate whether hot pursuit of some might not be as good an idea as just letting them arrive at their destination, and then arresting them.

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