Man seeks to upend conviction in Deerfield home invasion case
By JAMES A. KIMBLE Union Leader Correspondent
BRENTWOOD — A man serving a 10- to 20-year prison term for plotting a violent home invasion that targeted $20,000 in cash, silver bars and firearms from a Deerfield veterinarian is trying to upend his conviction a year after a jury convicted him on all charges.
Christopher Martin, 41, of Danbury claims that his former lawyer performed “below a reasonably competent standard” during his trial last August.
Martin’s lawyer, Mark Sisti, who took over the case after the trial, recently asked a superior court judge to throw out his client’s conviction. Sisti is arguing that the poor decisions by Martin’s former lawyer essentially violated his client’s constitutional right to have effective assistance from a lawyer.
Martin’s court petition also claims his former lawyer should not have agreed with prosecutors that the break-in and assault was carried out by a Manchester man.
Martin was convicted by a jury last Aug. 2 of conspiracy to commit burglary and being an accomplice to the burglary.
At trial, Martin was cast by the defense as a law-abiding local businessman who had an unwitting role in leading a masked intruder into the Deerfield home of Dr. Arthur Cutter.
The defense acknowledged that Martin knew the intruder, Jacob Palo, of Manchester, but did not play any role in planning the home invasion. Palo is serving a 20- to 40-year prison term for severely beating and pistol-whipping Cutter, who eventually escaped from the home. Palo fled in Cutter’s car, setting off a county-wide manhunt that eventually led to his arrest.
Sisti argued that the defense failed Martin by agreeing that the state did not have to prove Palo’s role in the break-in.
Prosecutors maintained that Martin knew about the valuables at the home because he got a look at them while doing a plumbing job at the house. Cutter had hired Martin to work on an on-suite bathroom near a bedroom safe.
Martin then recruited Palo and his girlfriend for the burglary, providing them with a hand-drawn layout of Cutter’s home. The burglars equipped themselves with duct tape, a spare set of license plates and bleach to cover their tracks.
Palo’s girlfriend, Sherri Avnet, 34, of Manchester, was sentenced to 2 to 7 years in prison for acting as a lookout that waited down the street during the burglary. She carried a backpack full of supplies for her boyfriend. Avnet testified as a state witness at Martin’s trial. She exchanged several text messages with Martin when the burglary began to go awry, eventually leading state police to Martin’s doorstep. County prosecutors are preparing a response to Martin’s latest claims before a judge begins reviewing the verdict.