Man appeals convictions in Allenstown near-fatal stabbing case

  • Kyle Buffum

Monitor staff
Friday, October 21, 2016

A man found guilty in February of orchestrating a near-fatal stabbing in Allenstown’s Bear Brook State Park is asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to overturn his convictions.

Kyle Buffum, 25, of Barnstead admitted to his role in the Jan. 26, 2014, incident that seriously injured Andrea Halvorsen, but argued at trial that his actions were the product of a mental illness.

A Merrimack County Superior Court jury rejected Buffum’s insanity defense and found him guilty of accomplice to attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and criminal solicitation. Buffum was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for his crimes.

The state’s highest court will now hear his argument for a new trial.

Buffum’s trial court attorney, Ted Barnes, stated in his notice of appeal that the lower court erred by giving the jury “narrow, limited and medically questionable definitions of the characteristics and manifestations of insanity.” As a result, he said, Buffum faced an increased burden to prove his insanity defense.

Barnes objected previously to prosecutors’ proposed jury instructions on the issue of Buffum’s insanity defense. The court, though, moved forward with the more restrictive guidelines, he said.

He also questioned whether the lower court should have allowed the defense to seek the testimony of a psychologist who evaluated Buffum and to whom Buffum disclosed he gave prosecutors false information.

Assistant appellate defender Stephanie Hausman will be representing Buffum as the supreme court process moves forward. She said in a recent interview she is not bound by the issues raised in Barnes filing, but reaffirmed the sole issue at Buffum’s trial was whether he was insane at the time of the charged crimes.

Hausman is awaiting additional transcripts before filing a required brief outlining her legal arguments.

Buffum filed his intent to rely on an insanity defense just five months after a judge declared him fit to stand trial.

At trial, 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.”

Insanity defenses are unusual in New Hampshire and especially difficult to win, according to attorneys. New Hampshire is the only state that does not require a medical diagnosis of mental illness for a jury to find a defendant insane. That means jurors have broader discretion to decide whether a defendant was responsible for his or her actions at the time.

Buffum has been incarcerated since his arrest in January 2014.

Prosecutors said he carefully coerced his 18-year-old girlfriend, Samantha Heath, over several months to kill her friend, and that he blamed Halvorsen for driving a wedge between the couple.

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.