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Jury deliberation begins for ex-Dunbarton selectman accused of sexually assaulting two boys

  • Merton Mann is led away after closing arguments at his trial Wednesday at Superior Court in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Merton Mann listens to closing arguments at his trial on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at Superior Court in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merton Mann after closing arguments at his trial on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at Superior Court in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/22/2019 6:45:09 PM

The defense argued that the teenagers’ accounts of sexual assault at the hands of a former Dunbarton selectman were inconsistent and that they were too young at the time of the alleged assaults to separate perception from reality.

But then why, a prosecutor argued, would the two boys, now 17, feel compelled to tell their story 12 years later in a public courtroom?

“This story of being molested by an old man is embarrassing for a 17-year-old. There is no reason to come in here and say it happened unless it is true,” said Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Joseph Cherniske.

Jurors will begin deliberating the sexual assault charges against Merton Mann, 75, on Thursday morning. He faces nine counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and seven counts of felonious sexual assault, most of which stem from an alleged incident in April 2007.

Evidence and testimony concluded Wednesday afternoon at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord with closing arguments that centered on the credibility of the victims, who were both 5 years old at the time of the alleged assaults.

Public defender Catherine Flinchbaugh said there were “glaring differences” in their stories accusing Mann of assaulting them both at the same time on April 4, 2007. She said their stories morphed over the years in a “slow burn” that culminated in this week’s trial.

“The truth, the proper perspective, gets lost when the narrative of assault has set in,” Flinchbaugh told the jury.

Cherniske walked jurors through the timeline of alleged assaults one last time before they gathered and decided to begin deliberations the next morning.

He said Mann began abusing one of the boys before the assaults in April 2007, first showing him a pornographic film and then “replicating” the acts performed in it. Cherniske said the abuse against this boy continued for months, in a bedroom, in an attic, in an office, on a car ride. He said Mann repeatedly told the 5-year-old to never speak of what they were doing.

“Think about how easy it would be to silence that child,” he said.

He did point to one area where the boys’ stories diverge. They each said they remembered during the April 2007 incident Mann touched one of the boys’ necks and coaxed him during the sexual abuse. The difference in their stories is they each remember it happening to the other boy.

“It’s like they didn’t want to remember what happened to themselves,” Cherniske said.

Flinchbaugh, the public defender, said one of the boys told their mother about the abuse later that night on April 4, 2007, and she then went to the police. The allegations were investigated by the county attorney’s office to avoid any possible conflict of interest between Dunbarton police and Mann, who was a selectman at the time, but no charges were brought against him.

One of the boys was interviewed again in 2010, but still no charges were brought. In 2018, both boys were interviewed again by a trained forensic interviewer at the Merrimack County Advocacy Center. In that interview, the boys, who had since moved to different towns and were attending different schools in New Hampshire, disclosed details of their alleged sexual abuse by Mann.

Jurors will begin deliberation Thursday at 9 a.m.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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