N.H. Supreme Court upholds Adam Wells’s child rape conviction
The state Supreme Court unanimously denied a child rapist’s effort to overturn his conviction yesterday, rejecting an appeal based on claims jurors were influenced by testimony they shouldn’t have heard.
Adam Wells of Pittsfield was convicted in 2012 of three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of felonious sexual assault in a case involving the rape of a young female relative. Wells was 40 when he appealed his conviction, for which he was sentenced to up to 47 years in prison.
Attorney Brianna Sinon raised two arguments on appeal: that the child was mistakenly allowed to testify about an act for which Wells was not charged, coloring the jurors’ view of him, and that the judge wrongly permitted testimony regarding comments the child made outside of court to counselors at her school.
During the trial, according to yesterday’s ruling, the child testified that, before one of the rapes for which Wells was charged, he penetrated her sexually with his finger. Wells also faced a charge for another, separate incident of penetration, but he was not charged for the former one – and therefore, the jury shouldn’t have heard about it, Sinon argued.
The result was to prejudice the jury, Sinon argued, by suggesting a pattern of behavior. While the judge instructed jurors not to let that influence them, Sinon argued that was so unlikely as to warrant a mistrial.
Not so, wrote Supreme Court Justice Jim Bassett. In fact, Bassett said, the testimony was highly relevant.
“The child . . . described events that took place immediately prior to the charged act, provided the jury with a full account of a single event, and enabled the jury to realistically evaluate her testimony,” Bassett wrote.
At his trial, Wells’s defense revolved around the assertion that the child had lied about the allegations because of an argument a few days earlier. To counter that, prosecutors produced testimony from her guidance counselor and a mental health counselor at her school. One testified that, after a presentation on sexual harassment, the child had approached her to ask what should be done if something had happened to a friend of hers. A few days later, the other counselor testified, the child told him that Wells had been touching her and that she wanted it to stop.
On appeal, Sinon argued that both accounts amounted to hearsay. But prosecutors said they had presented the testimony to establish the child’s state of mind, which the defense had made a central issue.
Bassett said the trial judge properly advised jurors on that distinction – and that the defense argument needed to be considered in the context of other evidence against Wells, including a conversation with the child, recorded by prosecutors, in which he all but admitted his guilt.
The testimony of the two counselors was “inconsequential,” Bassett wrote, when weighed against “overwhelming” evidence of Wells’s guilt.