Judge: Police interview admissible in Pembroke murder trial
Dale Collinge is arraigned for the murder of Karen Boelzner in Pembroke; Monday, November 14, 2011. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
When Dale Collinge goes on trial for murder, prosecutors will be allowed to play the interview in which he admits to taking a gun from his girlfriend, turning it on her and pulling the trigger.
In allowing that evidence, Merrimack County Judge Richard McNamara rejected the argument, made by Collinge’s lawyers, that the Pembroke man was too distraught to wilfully waive his Miranda rights and too traumatized from sitting for hours in bloody clothes to recollect what had happened.
On the contrary, McNamara wrote in his order, Collinge appeared “lucid, cooperative, coherent and showed no physical signs of intoxication” during his two-hour interview with the police shortly after his girlfriend, Karen Boelzner, was found dead Nov. 13, 2011.
More than a year and a half after that night, Collinge is scheduled to go on trial later this month on a charge of second-degree murder. While prosecutors argue he knowingly murdered Boelzner, his attorneys have said that at most Collinge acted recklessly, or under an extreme emotional disturbance caused by provocation.
Collinge hasn’t denied shooting Boelzner but said he did so after she, in a deeply unstable state, pointed the gun at him. When Boelzner pulled the trigger there wasn’t a bullet chambered, said Collinge, who has told the police that he thought the gun was empty when he turned it back on her.
While Collinge’s conversation with investigators will be played at the trial, the two sides have disagreed on what a jury might conclude from it.
Collinge’s lawyers say it shows him wavering over what happened that night, at times claiming he had chambered the bullet and then recanting and saying it was all a “blur.” Prosecutors have argued that while Collinge was emotional and drunk, his story was largely consistent as he stated plainly, “I shot my girlfriend.”
McNamara reviewed the interview before making a decision about allowing it at trial, and in his order he offered his own take, saying he found Collinge to be consistent on many important elements of his story.
“He repeatedly tells the Troopers that he just got out of the shower when he discovered Ms. Boelzner pointing a rifle at him; he consistently tells the Troopers that he took the rifle out of her hands by placing his arm underneath the strap; and he consistently tells the Troopers that after taking the weapon he stated, ‘do you want to play guns?’ ” McNamara wrote.
Collinge even demonstrated how he took the gun from Boelzner, the judge noted.
McNamara said Collinge wasn’t able to recall whether he manipulated the bolt action of the rifle. But he found that Collinge’s description of the event as a “blur” related to how quickly things happened that night, not his inability to remember.
With the trial approaching, McNamara recently issued several decisions on what evidence will and won’t be allowed in court. In addition to approving Collinge’s interview with investigators, he denied the prosecutors’ attempt to submit photos of Collinge posing in his underwear and pointing a rifle.
Those pictures were taken on Boelzner’s cell phone two days before she died and show Collinge holding the rifle that the police say he later shot her with.
Prosecutors argued that the photos would show two things at trial – that Collinge was reckless with firearms, but that even when engaging in “tomfoolery” with a dangerous weapon he took some level of caution and pointed the rifle away from the person taking the photos.
It was no accident, the prosecutors argued, when Collinge later pointed that rifle directly at Boelzner.
But McNamara noted the contradiction when making his order, saying the photos can’t “demonstrate both carefulness and carelessness simultaneously.”
He said the prosecutors wouldn’t be allowed to show Collinge had been careless with firearms before because it may lead a jury to find him guilty from his prior acts, not the evidence at trial.
And the judge agreed with Collinge’s lawyers, who have argued that the photos are embarrassing and deeply prejudicial.
“The photographs’ purpose can only be to embarrass, shame and degrade (Collinge) and to trigger in the jury a sense that (he) is not intelligent, acts strange or is . . . reckless,” McNamara wrote. “Therefore, the photographs may cause the jury to base its decision on something other than the evidence before it.”
That detrimental outcome, he said, had to be considered along with what gain could come from using the photos at trial. He found the potential harm outweighed the benefit. And he said prosecutors could show Collinge’s familiarity with the firearm used that night without the photos through witness testimony.
The trial is scheduled to begin May 20.