CONCORD — The New Hampshire Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the murder conviction of Christopher Gribble in the 2009 slaying of a Mont Vernon woman during a brutal home invasion involving three other young men.
The former Brookline resident is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for killing 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and attacking her then-11-year-old daughter, Jaimie.
Gribble, who was 20 at the time, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
His attorneys appealed the March 25, 2011, jury verdict, arguing that his confession to state troopers the day after the murder should have been suppressed, that the jury pool was tainted by pre-trial publicity, and that the judge erred in her instructions to the jury on the definition of insanity.
The High Court, which heard the appeal on Nov. 8, rejected all three arguments, sustaining the verdict and the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit burglary.
Cates was hacked and stabbed to death by Gribble and his accomplice, Stephen Spader. Her 11-year-old daughter, Jaime, was maimed and left for dead in the bedside ambush. Spader, 21, also of Brookline, is also serving life with the possibility of parole, and waived his right in April to seek a lesser sentence under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Two other accomplices, William Marks and Quinn Glover, both of Amherst, pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecution. Glover was sentenced to 20 to 40 years for burglary, robbery and conspiracy to commit burglary. Marks was sentenced to 30 to 60 years for conspiracy to commit murder, burglary and first-degree assault.
On the question of Gribble's confession to state trooper John Encarnacao, the court agreed that Gribble had asserted his right to remain silent, but later of his own volition resumed the conversation with Encarnacao that led to the confession.
The justices wrote, "Trooper Encarnacao reminded the defendant that he did not have to talk, but the defendant said, 'No, you know, I'm going to tell you everything.'"
"The defendant's Miranda rights were not violated, and we find no error in the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress," the ruling states.
The ruling also supports the decision by Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson to deny a defense motion for a change of venue, due to pre-trial publicity.
While agreeing that jurors were exposed to media coverage, the Supreme Court ruled that Hillsborough County, with more than 400,000 residents, was large enough to produce an impartial jury.
"Given the size of the community from which the jury pool was drawn in this case, it is unreasonable to conclude that 12 impartial jurors could not be found," the ruling states.
The justices also disagreed with the defense position that the nature of the news reporting at the time was prejudicial because of graphic descriptions and inflammatory language.
"We have reviewed the material submitted by the defendant," the justices wrote, "and although some of the news reports were accusatory in content and included graphic descriptions of the crimes, we agree with the trial court that an overwhelming amount of the material submitted consists of straightforward factual accounts of the crimes as recounted at Spader's trial and the proceedings leading up to the defendant's trial."
The defense claim that a change of venue was required was also dismissed by the justices, who wrote, "We have reviewed the 2,347-page transcript of the jury selection and found no evidence to support the defendant's argument that a change of venue was required. Rather, the record establishes that the trial court conducted a thorough jury selection process ... and went to great lengths to ensure that the empaneled jury was fair and impartial."
Gribble's defense attorneys also claimed that Judge Abramson's instructions to the jury on the definition of insanity unfairly favored the prosecution by supporting the state's theory of the case.
"Simply because the state tailored its closing argument to the enumerated factors that the court instructed the jury that it could consider, does not mean the instruction improperly supported the state," the opinion states. "We hold that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury as it did."
The opinion was written by Associate Justice James P. Bassett, with justices Linda Dalianis, Gary Hicks and Carol Ann Conboy concurring.