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N.H. high court rejects rapist’s amnesia claims

William DeCato, 55, right, formerly of Manchester, stands in the backyard of the victims' home during a viewing on the day of opening statements in his trial where he is charged with several crimes including felonious sexual assault. Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Brown and both legal teams were on hand with members of a jury. Opening statements by the prosecutors and defense took place Monday afternoon, October 24, 2011 at in Manchester. 
(John Tully/Monitor Staff)

William DeCato, 55, right, formerly of Manchester, stands in the backyard of the victims' home during a viewing on the day of opening statements in his trial where he is charged with several crimes including felonious sexual assault. Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Brown and both legal teams were on hand with members of a jury. Opening statements by the prosecutors and defense took place Monday afternoon, October 24, 2011 at in Manchester. (John Tully/Monitor Staff)

The New Hampshire Supreme Court yesterday upheld the rape conviction of a convicted sex offender who claimed amnesia about the crime made him incompetent to stand trial.

William Decato of Manchester will continue serving a life sentence for breaking into a Manchester woman’s home and repeatedly assaulting her over a two-hour period in August 2009.

The 57-year-old claimed his lack of memory of the assaults, due to heavy alcohol consumption, left him unable to assist in his own defense.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, said the evidence against Decato was strong enough to overwhelm any chance that Decato’s memory could have helped his defense.

During the attack, the victim grabbed a knife and stabbed her attacker in the neck. DNA tests linked blood at the scene to Decato, who was arrested hours after the attack.

Dr. Daniel Comiskey, chief forensic examiner for the state Department of Corrections, testified before the trial that Decato told him he’d consumed 11 beers and had no memory of the attack. Comiskey concluded he was competent to stand trial because he understood the proceedings and was capable of communicating with his lawyer.

The Supreme Court, citing a ruling on competency it issued five years ago, said, “There are many ways a defendant can consult with and assist his trial counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding without necessarily remembering the details or circumstances of an event that led to his arrest.”

Decato’s lawyer declined to comment on the ruling.

Decato claimed on appeal that his amnesia prevented him from challenging the victim’s version of events. But the court ruled the physical evidence from the crime scene – including the blood, eyeglasses and baseball cap Decato left behind – were so overwhelming as to bar any “tenable defense” he could have presented.

A jury in 2011 found him guilty of nine counts of aggravated felony sex assault and numerous other felonies. Decato received a mandatory life sentence because he was convicted of raping an exotic dancer and trying to rape another in Pembroke more than a decade ago, and he has prior convictions for rape and attempted rape.

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