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Dale Collinge trial Day 2: Jurors listen to interview from night of shooting

Dale Collinge of Pembroke sits at his motions hearing; Tuesday, Aril 16, 2013. Collinge has been charged with killing his girlfriend.

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Dale Collinge of Pembroke sits at his motions hearing; Tuesday, Aril 16, 2013. Collinge has been charged with killing his girlfriend. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Dale Collinge remembered grabbing the gun from his girlfriend in one fluid motion, swinging his hand under the strap and pulling the weapon she had just pointed at him into his own arms. The Pembroke man demonstrated that move for investigators the night he shot and killed Karen Boelzner, then held an imaginary rifle to his shoulder, made the distinct shucking noise of a bolt being manipulated and pulled back his finger.

“I admit that I threw that bolt forward,” Collinge said during the interview, played yesterday on the second day of his trial in Merrimack County Superior Court. “I know better. I should have shot her toe. I shouldn’t have even done it. I should have just grabbed the weapon and threw it out the window.”

Collinge, who is facing a charge of second-degree murder, said several times during his conversation with investigators in the late hours of Nov. 13, 2011, that he remembered working the rifle’s bolt and pulling the trigger. But at other times during the two-hour interview he said he couldn’t remember taking either step and described the night as a “blur.”

One of the state troopers who conducted the interview testified yesterday that Collinge’s self-reported memory loss became more distinct after a specific moment in the conversation – when he found out he was under arrest.

But Collinge’s lawyers, who have argued that the shooting was an accident, highlighted inconsistencies earlier in the conversation.

In hearings before the trial, they offered those moments as possible proof that Collinge suffered mental trauma when Boelzner inexplicably pointed the gun at him, stress so severe that he was not aware of his actions in the moments after.

The defense is expected to call a psychologist to make that point when they begin presenting evidence today.

‘I shot my girlfriend’

At the start of Collinge’s interview with investigators – held in a white, windowless room at the Pembroke Police Department – Collinge agreed to speak without a lawyer present and told them it was “absolutely” okay for the conversation to be recorded. He was cooperative throughout, never refusing to answer a question.

Detective Jeff Ardini started with an open-ended inquiry: “What is it that’s brought you and I here together tonight?”

“I shot my girlfriend,” Collinge replied.

To explain why, he began to talk about Boelzner’s mental state rather than his own, trying to piece together why she had pointed the rifle at him. He told them she attempted suicide a few months prior, with a mix of pills and alcohol. She was on four or five different medications at the time, and he wondered whether the doctors might have messed up her dosages.

Both had been drinking that day. A test administered more than five hours after the shooting showed Collinge to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.093, according to prosecutors. A medical examiner testified yesterday that Boelzner, who weighed 111 pounds, had a blood alcohol level of 0.169 at the time of her death.

That afternoon, Boelzner had grown extremely upset while on the phone with her daughter, Collinge told the investigators. He didn’t know what they were talking about, and he said he stayed out of the conversation as he finished doing work around the yard and got in the shower.

Before he went into the bathroom, he had asked Boelzner where his pajamas were. He said she didn’t respond, but when he came out in a towel, she had placed them, along with a pair of white socks, in the kitchen.

A few minutes later he found her pointing the gun at him.

She pulled the trigger.

When nothing discharged he said he took it out of her arms, repositioned it and pulled the trigger himself, wanting her to feel the same fear she had instilled in him.

“I didn’t think. (I said,) ‘You want to play guns, we’ll play guns.’ ” Collinge told the investigators. “I pulled that trigger. And I guess I’m going to deserve whatever the hell I get.”

But Ardini wanted to know what had started it all, what had made Boelzner upset that night. And later in the interview he asked Collinge what could have provoked a woman who had just set out a clean pair of pajamas for her boyfriend to point a rifle at him minutes later.

Collinge – sitting in those same clothes, blood on his sleeves – offered no explanation.

Still today, no one involved in the investigation has appeared to fill in that gap or answer a string of other questions only Boelzner could have, like whether she knew there was no bullet in the chamber when Collinge says she pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger.

“We’d have a whole different story on our hands (if it were loaded), wouldn’t we?” Ardini asked Collinge that night.

“I wish we did,” he said.

Signs of memory loss

Hoping to show that Collinge showed signs of memory loss throughout his conversation with investigators, defense attorney Donna Brown yesterday asked one of the state troopers who spoke with him that night to turn to Page 28 of the interview transcript.

Collinge was told he was under arrest on Page 58 of the transcript.

“Do you remember on Page 28 Dale saying, ‘And I heard a click and I grabbed it and I don’t, I may have pulled it back and threw it. I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember’?” Brown asked Trooper James Decker.

Decker said he did. But he noted that was only one of the times Collinge recounted what happened. On many other instances, he said he remembered manipulating the bolt.

Brown also pointed out that Collinge told the investigators he couldn’t remember whether Boelzner had said anything to him when she pointed the gun at him.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley, though, directed the jury to look at the interview as a whole, an approach he believes will show that Collinge was mostly consistent until he found out he was under arrest.

“Do you read books?” he asked Decker.

The trooper said he did.

“When you read a book, do you read the whole thing or do you flip to Page 47 and read Page 47, go to Page 148 and read Page 148, go to Page 257 and read Page 257?” Hinkley asked.

Brown objected over Hinkley’s last few words, and Judge Richard McNamara didn’t allow Decker to answer the question.

Hinkley asked whether it’s common for a suspect to minimize the importance of an event by claiming to not remember something.

“It absolutely is,” Decker said. “It’s actually the easiest out.”

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

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