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Pittsfield woman admits to stabbing husband twice during drunken dispute

A Pittsfield woman was sentenced to state prison yesterday after admitting she drunkenly stabbed her husband in the back and chest as he tried to flee their home during an altercation last fall.

Dawn Semple, 43, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault in the attack, during which she also smashed a lamp on her husband’s head and had to be subdued twice with a police stun gun, county prosecutor Catherine Ruffle said.

Under the terms of a plea bargain, Semple will serve between 60 and 90 days in the Goffstown women’s prison before being paroled and later moved to probation. Before yesterday’s hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court, she had served 200 days in county jail and in a residential treatment facility for alcohol abuse.

Judge Larry Smukler described the sentence as extremely light and said he agreed to it only because her husband, Neil, who has since recovered and was present, had asked for her immediate release.

Had he died in the attack, Smukler said, “You probably would have been looking at 20 to life. And that is something that would not be changed by anything you did or didn’t do. That is something that would be changed by the fortuity of the situation.”

The incident began about 4 a.m. Oct. 28. The couple had attended a contentious court hearing the day before involving Dawn Semple’s ex-husband, and both had been drinking heavily that night. Neil Semple later told a responding police officer that Dawn had woken him unexpectedly and had begun attacking him. He called the police and was trying to signal to the arriving officer, Clint Cassavaugh, when she plunged a kitchen knife into his back, Ruffle said. She stabbed him again in the chest as he tried to escape, at which point Cassavaugh shocked her with his stun gun and kicked the weapon from her hand.

Ruffle said the husband’s spleen was lacerated in the attack. She too acknowledged his request for immediate release, but said the prison sentence was meant to serve as a further deterrent and safety precaution.

Though the couple communicated frequently while the wife was in prison and appeared to have patched their relationship, Ruffle said, “it will be more challenging when she is out in the community and they’re living together again.”

“Again, I think they have very good intentions, but relapse is a very real possibility, and if she relapses, I am concerned she presents a danger to herself, to Neil and to the law enforcement community,” Ruffle said, alluding to the shooting Monday in Brentwood, in which a police officer was killed while responding to a domestic dispute. “When (officers) have to respond to these domestic issues, we all know how dangerous that is.”

Defense attorneys argued that immediate release would allow the couple, and specifically Dawn, to seek treatment in the community – services that won’t be available during her short term in the prison.

“I think the sooner that Dawn is out working on her rehabilitation in this particular instance, that is time better spent than being housed at the women’s prison,” said Robin Davis, a public defender.

Davis cited the Oct. 27 court hearing as a precursor to the attack. “This was an extremely tense time for them,” she said.

In remarks to Smukler and her husband, Dawn Semple said she was “in blackout” from the alcohol when the incident unfolded.

“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” she said, turning teary-eyed to her husband. “And I’m paying now, and I will continue to pay. I’m sorry, I really am. If I could take it all back, I would.”

She asked Smukler for release “so that my husband can stop suffering on the outside while I suffer on the inside.”

Neil Semple said he too had sought treatment for alcohol abuse, and that he plans to continue attending meetings with Dawn when she is released. He said he wasn’t worried she would relapse or lash out again.

“I think that until we’re allowed to begin our relationship again in such a way that (we can use) community supports that are available for us, there will always be a question,” he told Smukler. “I am very much in love with my wife. I’m not concerned for the community’s or for my safety.”

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

Legacy Comments2

Something tells me if Neil Semple had died in this attack, Dawn would've whipped out a Notarized statement from her hubby, asking she be released immediately. Neil, whatsamatta U? Doing your own laundry won't kill you, buddy, but staying with this woman just might.

“[B]oth had been drinking heavily that night”? “Dawn Semple said she was ‘in blackout’ from the alcohol when the incident unfolded”? NO!!! Really?!? Memo to Maggie: Please ‘splain again how pot is a dangerous substance compared to alcohol.

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