Hearing denied for man who blames killing on war flashback

  • Gary Place, a Concord man convicted for murdering his fiancee in 1984, is asking for his freedom. Monitor file photo.

Associated Press
Published: 9/20/2018 2:33:32 PM

New Hampshire has denied a pardon hearing request Thursday from a man who strangled his fiancée and stabbed her seven times in the heart 35 years ago.

The Executive Council voted 3-2 on Thursday not to hold a public hearing to re-examine the case of Gary Place, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the death of Wanda Olsen in 1983. Place will continue to serve his life sentence.

Place, who served in the Marines, said the killing was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder after the aroma of food and the hot, muggy weather triggered a flashback to Vietnam. The couple had been arguing about breaking off their engagement when the killing occurred.

According to his own testimony, Place admitted strangling Olsen with his hands and an electrical cord and repeatedly stabbing her as she lay on her bed. One juror and the prosecutor of the case, John Malmberg, said a determining factor in the conviction was that Olsen was alive for at least two minutes during the struggle – a point repeatedly made during the trial. Prosecutors also argued that Place’s decision to stab her showed he knew what he was doing.

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence opposed the request and welcomed the vote.

“Today’s decision sends a strong message that N.H. leaders take the crime of domestic violence, and offender accountability, seriously,” Amanda Grady Sexton, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said in a statement. “Today, our thoughts are with Wanda Olsen, who will never be pardoned from the death sentence given to her by her killer.”

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald testified ahead of Thursday’s vote. He argued that Place should not be granted the hearing.

Ahead of the hearing, Malmberg said that Place should have been convicted but that he had repaid his debt. He deserved a second chance – especially now that there is a better understanding of PTSD.

Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney, a Republican, said he voted to hold the hearing so that the public could learn more about the case as well as PTSD. He did, note, however that he would not have voted for a pardon.

“It was a lost opportunity to learn about the case 34 years later and to better understand how we better diagnose PTSD today and how our mental health system has advanced and how we have created veterans protocol to evaluate combat veterans who leave service today,” he said.

Place attorney Cathy Green said Place and his family were disappointed that there would be no hearing but would keep fighting for his release.

“I hope that some day in the future, this man who has done so much good for others within the prison system, and has been fully rehabilitated, can rejoin society where he has an immense amount to contribute,” Green said in a statement.

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