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Plumber convicted of conspiring in Deerfield home invasion that targeted family friend and former customer

Union Leader Correspondent

August 02. 2013 7:32PM
Christopher Martin, 40, of Danbury was convicted Friday on all charges that he planned out a Deerfield home invasion that targeted a veterinarian and family friend. Martin testified in Rockingham County Superior Court on Friday. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/Union Leader Correspondent)

BRENTWOOD — A plumber who plotted a home invasion targeting a Deerfield veterinarian that he once did work for was convicted on Friday afternoon on all charges that he conspired with two partners to loot a safe with $20,000 in cash, silver bars and firearms.

A jury convicted Christopher Martin, 40, of Danbury of conspiracy to commit burglary and being an accomplice to a Manchester man who carried out the violent break-in by donning a ski mask and beating the homeowner over the head with a handgun.

The jury reached its verdict just before 2:30 p.m. on Friday in Rockingham County Superior Court. It marked the third and final conviction in the case.

Dr. Arthur Cutter, the homeowner who suffered nearly 50 staples along his head from his injuries, watched from the front row of the court gallery as jurors were individually polled on their decision.

Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid said during closing arguments that Martin served as the nexus between Cutter and his masked attacker, who knew exactly where a bedroom safe was located after being given a hand drawn map of the house.

“Who is this man in the mask? He has no idea,” Reid said of Cutter. “He is seriously injured. He is forced to take things out of the safe and load his own car.”

Martin became familiar with Cutter’s home and the valuables he kept in it after working jobs at his home. The plan for the home invasion went awry when the attacker, Jacob Palo, 37, of Manchester lifted up his ski mask to take a cigarette break.

That’s when Cutter fled to his basement and escaped through a back door into the woods.

Palo is serving a 20 to 40 year prison sentence on a litany of charges for beating Cutter in his home and setting off a county-wide manhunt that ended after he crashed his second stolen getaway car into an Epping police cruiser in Fremont.

Defense lawyer Michael Anderson argued to jurors on Friday that there was no direct evidence linking Martin to the crime.

Anderson focused his closing arguments on the testimony of Palo’s girlfriend, Sherri Avnet, 34, of Manchester, another participant in the scheme convicted of being a lookout during the burglary. She is serving a two to seven year prison sentence.

Anderson described Avnet as a drug addict who aided Palo with carrying out raid on June 29, 2011.

“She is the only real link here, and by all accounts, the weakest link,” Anderson said. “She has told so many versions she can’t be sure she knows anything.”

Reid argued that Avnet’s statements to state and Deerfield police were consistent from the beginning, including when she was in a drug-induced haze while the burglary was underway.

She told police about her and Palo getting a ride from Martin to the front of Cutter’s home.

Avnet testified about exchanging text messages with Martin when their plan started to fall apart, and drew a large police response.

Jurors got to see the exchange of text messages and listened to one of Martin’s interviews with state police.

Martin testified in his own defense on Friday, insisting he knew nothing of the burglary plan. He told jurors that Palo was simply a drug addict who he occasionally employed as a day laborer and tried to help out.

Martin was convicted conspiracy to commit burglary, accomplice to theft, and two counts of being an accomplice to burglary. All convictions are Class A felonies.

Martin faces up to 7 ½ to 15 years in state prison on each of the charges. A sentencing hearing will take place in the next 45 to 60 days.

Judge N. William Delker ordered Martin held without bail pending his sentencing hearing.

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