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Man pleads to homeless beating

Last modified: 11/24/2010 12:00:00 AM
One of three suspects charged with conspiring to murder a homeless teenager by throwing him into the Merrimack River last November pleaded guilty yesterday to a lesser charge.

Robert Potter, 43, of Concord, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and was sentenced to five to 15 years in the state prison for his role in beating then-19-year-old Jonathan Evans at a homeless camp by the Merrimack River the night of Nov. 11, 2009.

Evans was later thrown into the river, where he stayed for more than an hour until rescue crews pulled him unconscious from the water.

Two days later, the police arrested Potter, who used to be homeless and had previously lived at the camp, along with 34-year-old Jamie Locke and 44-year-old Thomas Croswell, both of whom were homeless and living at the camp. The three were indicted by a Merrimack County grand jury earlier this year on charges of accomplice to attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

But the state did not prosecute those charges against Potter yesterday, instead allowing him to plead guilty to first-degree assault.

While Potter admitted to the police that he had participated in kicking Evans - the police have said Croswell, Locke and Potter were angry at Evans for stealing another homeless man's boots - he has maintained that he did not participate in trying to kill Evans, "and I think that is in fact what happened," Assistant County Attorney Wayne Coull said during yesterday's plea and sentencing hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Besides the confession Potter made to the police, Potter's son said he saw Potter kick Evans, Coull said, describing the attack on Evans as "just outrageous."

"But I don't think (Potter) participated in any attempt to throw the victim into the river," he said.

Potter had been due to appear in court yesterday for a hearing on his motion to keep incriminating statements he made to the Concord police from being used as evidence during his trial, arguing that he had been denied his request for a lawyer when he spoke to the police and hadn't voluntarily waived his rights.

But those arguments weren't addressed yesterday. In the days leading up to the hearing, Coull said he and Potter's lawyer, Ted Lothstein, worked out an agreement.

Lothstein told Judge Larry Smukler yesterday that the agreement wasn't made in exchange for Potter testifying against Locke and Croswell when they go on trial in January, since Coull, who is prosecuting those cases, does not intend to subpoena Potter.

Lothstein also told Smukler that Potter, who he said has no criminal record, "has always maintained he was never part of any so-called conspiracy to kill anybody."

Smukler accepted the proposed agreement and sentenced Potter, suspending six months of the minimum and giving Potter credit for the 376 days he has spent in jail since his arrest.

If Potter had been convicted of the original charges, he could have received a 15- to 30-year prison sentence for conspiring to commit murder and up to life in prison for being an accomplice to attempted murder, according to Lothstein.

Asked after the hearing why Potter decided to plead guilty to assault, Lothstein referred to comments he made in the courtroom, describing the sentence as "fair and just."

Dressed in prison orange, Potter stood during yesterday's hearing with his hands clasped behind his back, though they weren't cuffed.

He often turned to glance at his wife, Lois, who sat alone on a bench in the courtroom.

When the hearing ended, the bailiffs put the cuffs back on Potter, escorting him out of the courtroom.

Outside the courtroom, Lois Potter asked exactly how much longer her husband would be behind bars. She and Robert Potter were homeless before moving into an apartment in the Crutchfield building on Pitman Street two years ago, and she said it's been hard living without him.

"I tried to tell him not to go down there," she said, recalling the day Evans was thrown in the river. "I had a gut feeling."

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)


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