Portsmouth cop details relationship with elderly woman in inheritance dispute
By JASON SCHREIBER Union Leader Correspondent
Sgt. Aaron Goodwin of the Portsmouth, N.H. Police Dept., is questioned by attorney Charles Doleac in the Geraldine Webber Revocable Living Trust hearing on Tuesday, at the 7th Circuit-Probate Division-Dover. (Rich Beauchesne/Seacoastonline)
DOVER — Portsmouth police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin was with 93-year-old Geraldine Webber on the day she died.
He was by her side, as he had been at other times in the two years that he knew her.
He still remembers the final words she said to him just hours before her death on Dec. 11, 2012.
“I was just rubbing her head,” Goodwin said.
He wanted her to have a clear head, he said, so he asked her what she was thinking about and if there was anything she wanted to say that was unresolved.
“I’m thinking about that long drive to Foxwoods,” he recalled her telling him, referring to the time Goodwin and his brother drove a dolled-up Webber to Foxwoods Casino to re-live her gambling days.
Goodwin, the primary beneficiary of Webber’s $2.7 million estate, took the stand Tuesday for the first time in Dover probate court.
The hearing will decide the fate of her disputed will, rewritten in 2012.
The officer who befriended the elderly Portsmouth woman and is now at the center of a bitter court fight over her wealth described in detail how their friendship grew in the months after he first met Webber in late 2010 when he went to her home to investigate a crime.
Their relationship drew criticism from some parties who have challenged the will.
They accused Goodwin of taking advantage of Webber, who doctors said suffered from dementia.
Goodwin denies the allegations.
A judge must now decide whether Webber was mentally competent when she signed a new will rewritten by attorney Gary Holmes and whether Goodwin had undue influence over her.
The will was changed to leave her house, its contents, stocks and bonds, and a Cadillac to Goodwin.
Goodwin’s attorney, Charles Doleac, spent much of the day asking the questions, but Goodwin is expected to return to the stand Wednesday for a grilling by lawyers representing those contesting the will.
Goodwin testified about how he would visit Webber regularly and offered her assistance as she lived at home alone.
He and his wife would send meals to her at times; after she broke her wrist, Goodwin said he stopped by before work to prepare her breakfast.
Goodwin said he invited her to his house for Thanksgiving once, but she didn’t end up coming.
“She regarded me like a second son,” he said.
Webber’s son died in the 1990s. Her only living direct relative is her grandson, Brett.
Goodwin testified that he became uncomfortable when Webber informed him on Christmas Eve in 2010 — just a couple of months after they met — that she wanted to leave her waterfront home to him in her will.
She contacted him again a short time later and asked if he wanted the contents of her house.
Meeting with chief
Goodwin said he decided to meet with then-Police Chief Lou Ferland to tell him about his relationship with Webber and that she had offered him her house.
Goodwin claims Ferland told him that it appeared the two had developed a personal relationship and that it was acceptable, but that he should see Webber and help her only when off-duty and on lunch breaks.
That contradicted last week’s testimony from Ferland, who maintained he was unaware of the inheritance until after Webber’s death.
“I think the evidence would show that Chief Ferland is mistaken,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin also testified about how Webber had complained about her longtime attorney, James Ritzo, who she accused of stealing money; the allegations were unfounded.
Ritzo later complained about Goodwin and expressed concerns about the relationship he had quickly developed with Webber.
Goodwin admitted that he later helped Webber find a new attorney to rewrite the will, but insisted that Webber was the driving force behind hiring a new lawyer.
“That’s what she wanted,” he said.
Called ‘my love’
Goodwin also recalled how he tried to help socialize Webber by taking her out. They went to Foxwoods and he said he took her out on three occasions for Bloody Marys.
“I looked upon her as somebody I was honored to know and happy to help,” Goodwin said, adding that Webber made him “smile” and that he was “there to comfort her where her son wasn’t.”
His attorney spent part of Tuesday afternoon reviewing Webber’s calendar and her references to Goodwin as “my love.”
Goodwin said he considered the “my love” references to be similar to something a mother would say to a son.
“It was a motherly thing, a grandmotherly thing,” he said.