December 28. 2012 9:51PM

35 years to life for ex-boyfriend's murder

Union Leader Correspondent

Nicole LeBlanc, 39, turns from cameras as she enters a courtroom on Friday to plead guilty to charges that she murdered her ex-boyfriend, Richard Mannion Jr., in January. (JAMES A. KIMBLE Union Leader Correspondent)
BRENTWOOD - A Londonderry woman was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder for shooting to death her ex-boyfriend in January as he slept in his own bed, despite protests from the victim's family about a plea bargain that offered the possibility of parole.

Nicole LeBlanc was sentenced to 35 years to life in state prison on Friday for murdering Richard Mannion Jr., a Sandown father of four and Gulf War veteran who was shot once in the head at his home on the night of Jan. 14.

LeBlanc was initially charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life-without-parole prison term. She waived indictment on Friday to a new second-degree murder charge as part of a plea deal with state prosecutors.

The two-hour plea hearing in Rockingham County Superior Court was punctuated with calls from Mannion's family to maintain the first-degree murder charge so that LeBlanc would never be granted the possibility of one day walking free.

"Rick certainly did not have any chance to make a plea for his life," Dennis Mannion, the victim's uncle said on Friday morning. "He was asleep."

The deal also allows LeBlanc to petition a judge to have five years suspended from her sentence if she obtains a bachelor's degree and remains discipline-free for a decade.

"I can't guarantee you would ever be released from state prison," Judge Marguerite Wageling told LeBlanc on Friday while explaining terms of the agreement.

After listening to victim impact statements on Friday, Wageling suggested she may be reluctant to ever grant LeBlanc a sentence reduction."Ms. LeBlanc, you deserve every single day of this sentence - every single day of this sentence," Wageling said. LeBlanc, 39, who entered court with stooped shoulders and disheveled hair masking her face, offered no apology or statement and kept her back to Mannion's family during the hearing.

She was repeatedly prompted by Wageling to speak up while being quizzed about giving up her right to a trial. State prosecutors acknowledged that LeBlanc's history of mental illness played a role in agreeing to a lesser charge. Public defenders handed over a variety of mental health records showing that LeBlanc had been hospitalized because of mental illness.

LeBlanc also underwent another evaluation after she was charged with murder. "She has suffered from depression and has at least two documented instances of attempted suicide," Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said.

Hinckley said his office gives serious consideration to input by a victim's family, but it also has to weigh a number of other factors when recommending a potential sentence.

"If I was the victim's brother, son or relative my opinion would be different," Hinckley said outside the courtroom about the sentence.

LeBlanc had lived with Mannion, 43, at his Sandown home in 2011 until he ended the relationship last summer, according to Hinckley.

LeBlanc responded by repeated telephone calls, text messages and a twice breaking a no-contact order by arriving unexpectedly at Mannion's home on Dec. 25 and Dec. 28, 2011, prosecutors said.

Days later on Jan. 13, she broke into the home by smashing a basement window with a shovel found in his shed. She returned the next night, entering the home through the basement, with a .380-caliber handgun she had taken from a Hollis man whom she was once romantically involved with, prosecutors said.

LeBlanc used latex gloves, baby wipes and even donned Mannion's shoes to walk around outside his home to avoid detection, prosecutors said. She placed a folded towel to his head and fired a single round while he slept, according to Hinckley.

Mannion's ex-wife, Shannon Emerson, told Wageling that LeBlanc continued with her deception after the murder, arriving at her home offering to console her and her family while they were being questioned by state police detectives.

"I knew you were the one person who had everything to do with this," she said.

LeBlanc also posted several messages on Mannion's online obituary. State police ultimately unraveled the case when they questioned LeBlanc's one-time boyfriend, Dennis Johnson, of Hollis. Johnson, who was not charged, told investigators that LeBlanc had taken his handgun without his knowledge.

He later agreed to wear a body wire while drawing LeBlanc into a confession recorded by state police.

When asked about why she committed the murder, LeBlanc said during the recorded conversation that "she had her reasons," Hinckley said. "She also added she didn't feel bad about the victim."