Man convicted in 2014 near-fatal Allenstown stabbing requests new trial

  • Buffum

Monitor staff
Published: 4/9/2019 5:17:20 PM

A man found guilty of orchestrating a near-fatal stabbing in Allenstown’s Bear Brook State Park in 2014 is once again seeking a new trial, arguing his attorney performed so poorly that it deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Kyle Buffum, 27, of Barnstead filed his request from the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, where he is serving a sentence of 35 years to life in the planned attack that seriously injured Andrea Halvorsen. A jury rejected Buffum’s insanity defense in February 2016 and unanimously found him guilty of accomplice to attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and criminal solicitation following a four-day trial in Merrimack County Superior Court.

In his motion, Buffum argues his trial attorney, Ted Barnes, failed him in several ways, including by not advising him of his right to waive indictment, by not educating him about the maximum penalties he could face if he proceeded to trial, by not adequately pursuing cellphone evidence, and by not thoroughly cross-examining state witnesses.

“In regards to these claims of ineffective counsel, this defendant does acknowledge that Attorney Barnes did make a number of competent and strategic decisions throughout the case,  and they do not go unrecognized,” Buffum wrote in his motion, dated Feb. 8. “However, some of his decisions were not only unreasonably deficient, but they also derived Buffum of certain rights of the accused that are guaranteed by the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

Buffum’s new trial request comes more than a year after the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed his sentence, which was handed down by Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi in the weeks following the jury verdict. Buffum had argued that Nicolosi sought to punish him for choosing to go to trial, potentially causing the victim more pain. But the state’s highest court found no violations of Buffum’s constitutional rights.

Further, a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges reviewed the disposition and unanimously affirmed Buffum’s sentence in December 2017.

The case file is now on its way to Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester where Nicolosi presides. Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara ordered the transfer Tuesday because Nicolosi was the trial judge. She will decide whether to hear Buffum’s arguments or simply dismiss his motion.

Merrimack County prosecutors have asked the court to deny Buffum’s request for a new trial. Deputy County Attorney George Waldron wrote in his objection that a waiver of indictment on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder would not have prevented prosecutors from seeking additional charges.

“The defendant's claim has no merit as the County Attorney must consent to such a waiver and even if such a waiver was agreed to, the State would be constitutionally permitted to present further indictments to the Grand Jury,” Waldron wrote.

Prosecutors had offered Buffum a plea deal with a recommended sentence of 20 years to life. Buffum wrote in his motion for a new trial that he rejected the offer and risked a lengthier sentence, believing that, if found guilty, he faced a maximum of 30 years of incarceration. 

“The defendant's claim that he received 35 years instead of 30 is not a basis for granting him a new trial,” Waldron wrote.

At trial, Buffum conceded his role in the attack but argued that he had been driven to act by mental illness. Barnes told jurors that Buffum had long harbored depressive thoughts, and that he essentially flew off the handle in late 2013, descending into “paranoia, irrationality and obsession.”

Prosecutors said there was no evidence to support the claim. They insisted instead that Buffum had carefully coerced his 18-year-old girlfriend, Samantha Heath, to kill her friend, Halvorsen, over several months through January 2014.

“It’s easy to look at this case and think, this is crazy,” Assistant County Attorney Joe Cherniske said during the 2016 trial’s closing arguments. “Two 20-year-old kids who believed they had to kill a person to be happy and then planned it in their text messages to each other.

“But committing a crime that doesn’t make sense to everyone in this room doesn’t make him criminally insane.”

Halvorsen was stabbed more than 20 times in her chest and midsection in Bear Brook State Park.

Heath pleaded guilty in 2015 to attempted murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, though with the possibility of a reduction. She testified at Buffum’s trial.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)


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