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Third Concord torture suspect pleads guilty after last-minute deal

Daniel Tyler Cantrell

Daniel Tyler Cantrell

As part of a last-minute deal with county prosecutors, the 20-year-old Tennessee man at the center of one of the most grisly torture cases to affect Concord in recent memory pleaded guilty yesterday to five felonies, admitting in so doing that he broke a young man’s jaw, scorched his nipples and twisted his ankle until it snapped.

The man, Daniel Tyler Cantrell, will be sentenced next week to 18 to 60 years in state prison, attorneys on both sides said yesterday. Cantrell had been scheduled to go to trial later this month on the charges, which also included strangling the now 19-year-old man with a scarf, helping the teen’s mother burn his penis and coercing him to tell authorities that his wounds were self-inflicted.

Yesterday had been the deadline for the state and Cantrell’s attorney, John Draghi, to reach a plea deal.

Under the agreement, Cantrell will be sentenced on only the two felony counts of burning the man’s nipples, offenses that bring extended punishment because of a state statute prohibiting extreme and unusual cruelty. Cantrell also pleaded guilty to fracturing the teen’s ankle, breaking his jaw and helping burn his penis – all felonies – County Prosecutor George Waldron said. The other charges were dismissed.

Waldron said the negotiated sentence was close to the 20- to 60-year range the state had originally sought, and that the victim had consented to it before they gave the defense a final nod.

The sentencing was pushed to next week to give the victim, who is living with relatives in Massachusetts, a chance to be present, Waldron said.

Reached by phone after the hearing, Draghi declined to comment on the deal.

Cantrell’s plea came a day after the third suspect in the scandal, Amy Nason, pleaded guilty to three felonies and was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison. Nason, the victim’s 29-year-old cousin, admitted to being present as Cantrell strangled the young man, directing him to twist the man’s ankle and convincing the victim to lie to investigators in an early police interview.

The victim’s mother, Christine Gelineau, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to her role in the abuse, which unfolded at the family’s Penacook home. Gelineau, 52, allegedly burned his penis with a lighter after first pressuring him to eat human feces, according to statements Cantrell made to investigators this spring. Cantrell admitted then that he had helped Gelineau carry out the act by kicking the teen into a bedroom, tying him down and walking away as Gelineau pulled his pants down, the police said in an affidavit.

Word of the abuse surfaced in mid-April, when state officials were contacted by the parents of a 12-year-old girl who said she had witnessed some of the abuse while visiting Nason’s daughter, who also lived at the home. The girl said she watched the three suspects restrain the victim, beat him and withhold food from him, among other acts.

Detectives initially interviewed the victim and Cantrell together, at which point he claimed he had caused his own injuries. His story unraveled in subsequent interviews, the affidavit indicates, and he eventually conceded that Cantrell and his relatives had in fact carried out the abuse.

The victim, who is mentally challenged, told investigators that all three suspects had forced him to drink their urine from a Nesquick bottle and that they laughed as he did so, according to the affidavit.

Cantrell later admitted to detectives that he had assaulted the teen multiple times, but he indicated that many of the incidents had been accidents. In the ankle episode, he said he had been trying to teach the victim a wrestling move. In another, he said he had placed the victim in a sleeper hold and told him he would release him if he agreed to burn his nipples himself. The teen complied, he said, but was unable to follow through.

In response, Cantrell threw him against a wall. Pinning him there, Cantrell “activated one lighter in each hand and held the flame on (the victim’s) nipples for a period of approximately two minutes,” the affidavit states.

As he held the lighters to the teen’s chest, Gelineau beat her son’s head with a stick, he told investigators.

The family had moved into the home only a few months before the abuse began, neighbors said. The family reportedly met Cantrell in Tennessee during a road trip. Cantrell’s mother said this spring that he had moved to New Hampshire in search of work, and to “better himself.”

He had no felony record before arriving in New England, Waldron indicated.

It’s still not clear what motivated the abuse, though prosecutors said money appears to have played at least some part. Gelineau had been receiving government assistance for her son’s disability, but that dried up when the family relocated to Concord from Massachusetts at the beginning of the year and he stopped attending school.

Neither Nason nor Gelineau explained the behavior during their hearings. Cantrell will have a chance to make a statement next week, when the victim is present. Waldron said Cantrell had described the abuse in an earlier statement as “frenzy-like behavior.”

Waldron said the state would have had a strong case had the trial gone forward, especially given what Cantrell had already admitted to in police statements.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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