MANCHESTER — Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson heard prosecuting and defense attorneys in chambers Wednesday morning to decide how the court will proceed in resentencing convicted murderer Steven Spader, the teenage mastermind of a horrific home invasion that left a Mont Vernon mother hacked to death and her daughter maimed.
A status hearing was set for Jan. 3 to give Spader's defense a chance to provide an expert report, should it want to do that. Defense attorney Jonathan Cohen would not say today what an expert would address, but Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin, speaking in broad terms, said the report could include expert testimony from a psychologist or psychiatrist familiar with the juvenile mind and its impulsiveness.
Cohen said the defense has not decided whether it will call any experts for the resentencing. The court set a Dec. 28 deadline, however, for the defense to file an expert report.
Strelzin said the state expects to argue that Spader, who was 17 on Oct. 4, 2009, when he killed Kimberly L. Cates, 42, still should be sentenced to life without parole as well as the consecutive 76 years-to-life sentence on other offenses, including attempted murder of Cates' 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie.
Spader was given an automatic life sentence after he was convicted of first-degree murder. That life sentence, however, became unconstitutional June 25 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller vs. Alabama. The high court decided an automatic, mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for a juvenile, someone under the age of 18, constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.
It did not say life sentences with no parole could not be imposed on juveniles, only that they could not be automatic.
Both Cohen and Strelzin said courts now must consider other issues in sentencing juveniles in first-degree murder cases which, under New Hampshire law, carry mandatory sentences of life without parole. That includes both aggravating and mitigating circumstances, according to Strelzin.
Asked what the Cates family reaction was to the resentencing, Strelzin said the family has been strong throughout the case but the Supreme Court ruling was “just another blow” for them. Strelzin said they already understood it would be a long process; Spader had already filed an appeal.
When scheduled, the resentencing will be a two-step process. Strelzin explained the first step will involve the defense and prosecution making their sentencing arguments. The court, he said, will take those arguments under advisement.
A sentence imposition hearing will then be held at a later date when Spader will be resentenced on all the charges. The transcript of the family's impact statement, given at Spader's sentencing, could be entered into the record at that point or the family could opt to give another impact statement, the prosecutor said.
Cohen said he could not comment on what his client's reaction was to the Supreme Court decision and his being resentenced.
Spader, 20, and formerly of Merrimack, was 36 days shy of his 18th birthday when he committed the crimes, according to Strelzin.
Defense attorneys for four defendants, juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole on first-degree murder convictions, have contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office concerning resentencing, but none has filed any pleadings as of Wednesday, Strelzin said.
The Supreme Court decision does not apply to other defendants in the Cates' case, he said.