Pembroke man accused of killing girlfriend had troubled childhood
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)
A psychologist testified yesterday in court that Dale Collinge went into severe shock in the seconds after shooting his girlfriend, possibly in part because his troubled childhood had left him susceptible to trauma.
In that state, Collinge wasn’t able to knowingly waive his right to remain silent, the Pembroke man’s lawyers argued, asking a Merrimack County Superior Court judge to keep his statements to detectives out of his trial.
“I don’t think that he knows exactly what happened in those moments,” Philip Kinsler, a forensic psychologist, said. “I believe he went into stark terror that interfered with his awareness system within his brain. And he’s, for 15 months, been trying to figure out what happened.”
Collinge is scheduled to go on trial next month on a charge of second-degree murder. The police said Collinge has admitted to killing 50-year-old Karen Boelzner on Nov. 13, 2011, but claimed the shooting came only after she first pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger.
When he grabbed the rifle and turned it on her, Collinge thought it was empty, the police said.
Collinge’s recollection of those moments was central to yesterday’s hearing, with prosecutors arguing he gave consistent statements – that he took the gun, worked the bolt and pulled the trigger – to no less than seven people at the scene.
Kinsler, who at the request of the defense team has reviewed evidence in the case and spent about six hours interviewing Collinge, disagreed. He pointed to discrepancies in Collinge’s statements at the scene and his interview with the police as proof that his memory failed him, leaving him unable to recount what happened or to willingly talk to officials without a lawyer present.
In making that case to Judge Richard McNamara, Kinsler said it’s important to consider Collinge’s background. He said Collinge claimed, and family later confirmed, that his mother died when he was 8 years old. Collinge felt “somewhat responsible” for her death because the woman, who was often ill, had fallen and hit her head while chasing him and later died at the hospital, Kinsler said.
Collinge moved among foster homes and at least once was put in a placement where he was psychologically abused, Kinsler said. Collinge’s siblings, not wanting him to continue in the foster system, “kidnapped” him and brought him to Ohio, he said.
“His life was so chaotic that by age 13 he was living in a car behind a gas station on his own when apparently or allegedly the owner took him in . . . and treated him as something of an apprentice and taught him his mechanical skills,” Kinsler said, recounting what Collinge told him about his past.
Kinsler called it an “incredibly unstable upbringing,” and told the judge that the “more kinds of trauma a person has experienced in their life, the more vulnerable they become to later trauma reactions.”
Kinsler said it’s clear Collinge was traumatized and couldn’t remember what happened that day. For example, he said, Collinge was far from consistent in describing the incident.
“He said he loaded the gun, he knew the gun was loaded, he didn’t know the gun was loaded, he thought it was a blank. . . . He was sure that she had shot a blank at him. He threw the bolt. He didn’t throw the bolt,” Kinsler said.
He also added that the police’s interrogation tactics – specifically that Collinge was left sitting with Boelzner’s blood on his hands and clothes for hours before the interview – could have contributed to his unstable mental state.
“He was left sitting for a number of hours with the blood and brains of his deceased lover, life partner on his hands. . . . He sat there for hours feeling this on himself. This has got to be, there is probably no other word than awful. Just absolutely, humanly awful,” Kinsler ,said.
But Jeff Ardini, the state police detective who interviewed Collinge, said he wasn’t trying to intimidate or shake Collinge by not letting him wash his hands. Ardini said the police simply needed to preserve the evidence while waiting to obtain a warrant allowing them to collect Collinge’s clothing and blood samples.
Ardini said Collinge was lucid during the interview and at times seemed at ease, casually talking about his experiences hunting. On the few occasions that Collinge became overwhelmed and broke down in sobs, the detectives didn’t get agitated or pressure him, Ardini said. They stopped the interview, got him a box of tissues and allowed him to collect himself before continuing.
Ardini said Collinge started to lose clarity only after the detectives told him he was under arrest.
Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said Collinge knew that what he told the police could be used against him. And he called the judge’s attention to a section of Kinsler’s assessment where he described Collinge as having a “high rate” of vocabulary regarding Miranda rights.
The judge didn’t rule on the motion yesterday or several other matters pending before Collinge’s trial.
The judge is also weighing whether to allow prosecutors to introduce cell phone photos Boelzner took of Collinge two days before her death that show him standing in his underwear and a cowboy hat, pointing a rifle.
Hinckley argued yesterday that the photos show not only that Collinge was reckless with firearms but that even when he was being negligent he showed a level of caution, pointing the rifle away from Boelzner. He said the photos show that it wasn’t an accident when he later pointed that same rifle directly at his girlfriend and pulled the trigger.
Public defender Donna Brown said the defense isn’t disputing that Collinge is familiar with firearms and accused the prosecutors of wanting to use the photos only because they’re embarrassing and prejudicial.