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Parole board grants release for man convicted of killing Concord infant

George Knickerbocker says goodbye to his wife, Dawn Knickerbocker, after asking Judge Larry Smukler for a reduction in his sentence for the 1983 slaying of Adams Robbins in Merrimack County Superior Court; Wednesday,  February 22, 2012.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

George Knickerbocker says goodbye to his wife, Dawn Knickerbocker, after asking Judge Larry Smukler for a reduction in his sentence for the 1983 slaying of Adams Robbins in Merrimack County Superior Court; Wednesday, February 22, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

George Knickerbocker will go free in January, at the end of his minimum prison sentence for the 1983 death of a 34-day-old boy in Concord, the state parole board decided yesterday.

When he is released in less than two months, Knickerbocker will have served 10 years in prison.

But as Adam Robbins’s mother sat in the hearing and shook her head in quiet anger, board member Jeffrey Brown told Knickerbocker he should start his new life outside of prison with the memory of the baby whose death he caused 30 years ago.

“You’re going to have to make up for that every damn day, do you understand?” Brown said.

Robbins died Feb. 18, 1983, from a fractured skull and other injuries suffered while Knickerbocker was watching him. Knickerbocker, now 54, was living with Denise Dow on Old Loudon Road at the time of her son’s death, but he was not arrested and charged with his crime until 2002. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but in 2006, a jury convicted him of a lesser charge of manslaughter.

In 2007, a judge sentenced Knickerbocker to 12 to 24 years in prison – a lighter punishment than the 15 to 30 years requested by the prosecutor – and he received credit for almost three years served during his trial. Last year, a judge suspended two years of that sentence because Knickerbocker completed substance-abuse counseling in state prison in Berlin, but he denied his request for early release.

Yesterday’s hearing in Concord was the first time Knickerbocker was eligible for parole, and the board was critical of his dishonorable discharge from the Navy in 1981, his history of substance abuse and his crime itself. But they decided to release Knickerbocker on the strength of the steps he has taken to better himself in prison, the family waiting for him in Massachusetts and the remorse he has shown for Robbins’s death.

“During the time I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve tried to better myself and help others. . . . I’m very sorry for all the pain and suffering I’ve caused,” Knickerbocker told the board.

Knickerbocker has taken classes at the prison, including Bible study courses, in addition to his alcohol and drug abuse counseling. As his wife and stepdaughter sat nearby, he asked the board to just let him be with them.

“My parole plan is to go home with my family, seek gainful employment, go to church,” he said.

Dow, Robbins’s mother, silently held a framed photograph of her son as she listened to the board’s questions for Knickerbocker. When the board gave the mother the chance to speak, Dow turned to one of her victim advocates from the state, who read out loud a poem Dow’s brother wrote about Robbins.

“He couldn’t run, he couldn’t walk. Barely a baby, he couldn’t talk,” the poem read. “Never once, did Adam ask, ‘How?’ Never a chance, not until now.”

Dow was quiet, but her shoulders were square. She spoke up when the board asked Dow when she felt Knickerbocker should be released.

“When he’s man enough to say exactly what he did,” she answered.

Dow told the board she still doesn’t know what happened the day she came home from running errands to find her son had been seriously injured in Knickerbocker’s care. Knickerbocker has apologized, but he has never recounted the events that transpired in those hours Robbins was left in his care.

So while the board granted his request for parole, the board also told Knickerbocker his plans to participate in community service and continue bettering himself are not enough penance for his crime.

“That doesn’t change what needs to be done – letting Ms. Dow know what happened,” board member Leslie Mendenhall said. “It has to start with the only person who deserves that payback.”

Knickerbocker is not supposed to have direct contact with Dow or her family, but he will have contact information for her victim advocates from the state should he decide to confess what happened to her son, the board said.

Under the terms of his parole, Knickerbocker will not be allowed to enter the state of New Hampshire or have unsupervised contact with any child under the age of 16.

Before his arrest, Knickerbocker had problems with alcohol and marijuana, he told the board, and he did complete substance abuse counseling in prison. He said he has been clean and sober while incarcerated, but the board has also ordered more mandatory substance abuse treatment after his release.

He will need that treatment and support to face the pressure of readjusting to life outside prison and the challenges of addiction, they said.

“You’re behind-the-walls clean, not on-the-street clean. . . . You’re going to be faced with people who aren’t happy to even see you based on what you’ve done,” Brown told Knickerbocker.

Because Knickerbocker plans to leave the state and live in Massachusetts with his wife, he will need to submit his out-of-state parole plan to the parole board there. If that board accepts his plan, which is likely because he has a wife and stepdaughter in the state, Knickerbocker will be free to move to Massachusetts at the beginning of the new year and receive his parole supervision there.

Knickerbocker’s wife, Dawn Portrey Knickerbocker, stood to speak briefly yesterday.

“He has done all he can, like he said, to better himself,” she told the board.

Her adult daughter sat beside her as she addressed the board.

“He does have a family,” Portrey Knickerbocker said. “I believe he’ll be able to come home and make this work.”

Knickerbocker will be released Jan. 1. He was stoic in his prison uniform and did not want to comment after the hearing, but he hugged his wife and stepdaughter tightly outside the board room.

“Thank you, I love you,” he whispered to them.

Dow watched from the prison lobby window while Knickerbocker walked his family to the parking lot. She also declined to say anything more, just shaking her head as she had during the hearing, her silence a mix of palpable anger and sorrow.

“You say you got a family?” Brown had asked Knickerbocker as he sat before the parole board. Brown pointed to Dow where she sat with the picture of her infant son in its thick black frame.

“In that frame, there is a family, too.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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