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Jury finds Collinge guilty of manslaughter in shooting death of girlfriend

  • Dale Collinge looks towards the jury after it announced him guilty of manslaughter in Merrimack County Superior Court ; Friday, May 24, 2013.<br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Dale Collinge looks towards the jury after it announced him guilty of manslaughter in Merrimack County Superior Court ; Friday, May 24, 2013.
    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Dale Collinge of Pembroke sits at his motions hearing; Tuesday, Aril 16, 2013. Collinge has been charged with killing his girlfriend.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    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)

  • Dale Collinge looks towards the jury after it announced him guilty of manslaughter in Merrimack County Superior Court ; Friday, May 24, 2013.<br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • Dale Collinge of Pembroke sits at his motions hearing; Tuesday, Aril 16, 2013. Collinge has been charged with killing his girlfriend.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

A jury yesterday found Dale Collinge guilty of manslaughter, 18 months after he admitted to pointing a rifle at his girlfriend, pulling the trigger and firing a bullet into her head, never imagining the gun was loaded. On that night, the Pembroke man told officers, “I’m a murderer.”

The jurors, though, disagreed.

They acquitted Collinge of the harsher second-degree murder charge prosecutors argued for before finding him guilty of the lesser crime. The manslaughter conviction could equal up to 30 years in prison, less than the life imprisonment 49-year-old Collinge was facing but more than his lawyers, who had asked the jury to find him guilty of negligent homicide, had hoped.

The verdict, reached in about six hours of deliberations over two days at Merrimack County Superior Court, was announced in steps, starting with the acquittal on second-degree murder. Collinge, who has said he took the rifle from Karen Boelzner only after she first pointed it at him and pulled the trigger, showed little reaction. The family and friends gathered behind him, many sitting with their shoulders raised and backs pressed straight against the courtroom benches, continued to hold their breaths for the jury’s decision on manslaughter.

When the jury announced the finding of guilty, Collinge remained resigned. But the tension from the others released in cries and tears.

As he walked out of the courtroom, Collinge turned to his family.

“It’s all right,” he said.

All of the jurors declined to comment. At 10 a.m. yesterday, after about five hours of deliberations, the jury’s forewoman asked to see the weapon, which was shown during the trial and kept in locked box. They reached a decision about an hour later.

The verdict indicates the group may have believed Collinge was conscious when he took the gun from Boelzner and pulled the trigger, but didn’t act with an extreme indifference to the value of human life, an element of second-degree murder.

Over the course of the four-day trial, the defense team argued there was nothing conscious about Collinge’s reaction to finding Boelzner, who he knew to be suicidal and unstable at times, pointing a rifle at him. When Collinge’s knees buckled beneath him in the moment he heard a click, he suffered psychological trauma so severe that his “brain failed,” defense attorney Donna Brown said, rendering him unaware of his actions and unable to accurately record memories.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley called the theory “psychobabble” and accused the defense of portraying Boelzner as a “pill-popping nut job” who was responsible for Collinge’s actions. He said Collinge admitted to officers at the scene and in a recorded interview played for the jury that he turned the rifle on Boelzner to teach her a lesson: Don’t play with guns.

‘Significant’ issues

Defense attorney Donna Brown said yesterday that there were several “very significant” issues during the trial that she’s considering raising on appeal, including a moment when Hinckley re-created the shooting with a photo of Boelzner and the actual gun Collinge shot her with.

Hinckley started his closing argument Thursday by holding up a picture of Boelzner, her face, drenched in sunlight, in a wide smile.

“Just an accident, that’s what they are claiming here. Just an accident,” he said, pinning the photo to a stand.

He held the rifle up to his shoulder. Brown objected, but Judge Richard McNamara let Hinckley continue.

“Just an accident,” he said, as he manipulated the bolt. “Just an accident. Just an accident.”

And then he used the words Collinge told officers he said to Boelzner after he had pulled the rifle out of her hands.

“You want to play f------ guns?”

Hinckley held the rifle for a moment.

“And then he pulled the trigger,” he said, turning his head to the jury. “No way. No way is this just an accident or just negligent or just reckless. It was almost a firing-line type execution. The only reason it wasn’t . . . is because, according to him, he didn’t think that rifle was loaded.”

Brown yesterday called the demonstration “dramatic,” and said prosecutors had agreed to use Boelzner’s photo only for identification purposes after the defense attorneys objected to one being shown at the trial.

“It now looks like there were maybe other motives to get that photograph in, to get some demonstration like that,” she said.

Hinckley, though, said the verdict was fair and that the jury came to a “reasonable conclusion after looking at all the evidence.”

“Justice was served,” he said.

The sentencing has not been scheduled.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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