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Home » Local Voices » Mark Hayward's City Matters

August 01. 2012 11:00PM

Perrennial candidate, living under 'black cloud'


 
I WISH I could write that Robert Tarr has been convicted of molesting children and sent to state prison for a long time.

Conversely, I wish I could write that the Spruce Street resident and perennial political candidate has been found not guilty of the stomach-churning charges.

But Tarr lives with, as he says, a black cloud over him. Twice he has been charged with molesting two young sisters during a sleepover in his third-floor apartment some eight years ago.

Twice the cases have gone away. Not with a verdict, which is what he — and nearly anyone — expects in a country that professes fair and speedy trials and the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

In November 2010, Tarr was arrested and jailed for 108 days pending trial on two felony sex-crime charges. Two girls, who are now 16 and 14, alleged Tarr molested them during a sleepover in his apartment in the summer of 2004, when they were 7 and 6 years old.

In March 2011, a judge threw out the case and ordered Tarr released from jail because prosecutors hadn't met a 90-day deadline for a grand jury indictment after an arrest.

Eventually, authorities did get an indictment, which also widened the period of potential abuse. Now it's from as early as 2002 to as late as 2006.

But in April, prosecutors dropped the charges against him.

“Unable to locate victim,” Assistant County Attorney Karen Gorham wrote in the court file.

So now, Tarr waits. Either his accusers will surface, or the alleged crime will be voided under the statute of limitations. But that won't take place for another 26 years or so.

“Now I've got this black cloud over my head,” Tarr said. He wants to go to trial and prove his innocence, he said. “I wanted to face the people (the girls), and say 'why would you do that?'”

Tarr and his wife moved to Manchester in the late 1990s. Homeless, they were married at the New Horizons shelter and started a life here.

He worked as a clerk at Family Dollar but was laid off four months before his initial arrest. He now lives on an $818-a-month Social Security disability check on account of a bad back and sleep apnea.

He often squints when he speaks, and it's hard to maintain eye contact with him, traits he blames on anxiety from his time in Valley Street jail.

He lives on the top floor of a triple-decker in the middle of the center city. As you walk up the stairway, your nostrils fight the sour smell of a litter box that has fermented in summer heat.

Any day now, a judge will decide whether his three teenage children remain in foster care. He said the state took them for “educational neglect.” When he was in jail the kids were tardy and absent from school in order to care for their ailing mother, he said.

Many Union Leader readers will recognize Tarr. He came to the forefront in 2006, shortly after Officer Michael Briggs was killed a few blocks from where lives. He helped form a neighborhood watch group, which then-Mayor Frank Guinta encouraged in the city.

He volunteered at Wilson School. He sat on an advisory board for Head Start. And he's run for alderman, school board and state representative in Ward 5. The center city ward skews Democratic, which he blames on his inability to win an election.

He is now running for governor in the Republican primary.

When Tarr posts on blogs and newspaper comment boards, he's often disparaged as a pedophile or pervert.

“I know the truth. My wife knew the truth,” Tarr shrugged. “There's going to be haters in the world.”

Hillsborough County Attorney Denis Hogan acknowledged that a mistake was made when former prosecutor Nicole Fortune missed the deadline on the first set of charges.

“The person who could explain no longer works here,” Hogan said. But he doesn't think his office is responsible for the decision of Tarr's accusers to make themselves scarce.

“They're around the teenage years, old enough to leave but young enough to be hard to find,” Hogan said.

The two are listed as missing persons, and if police should come into contact with them “they will be taken in and we should get notified,” Hogan said. Investigators aren't actively looking for them, and he ruled out the idea of a subpoena. A prosecutor doesn't want to strong-arm a victim to testify, especially in a sex abuse case, he said.

Hogan said the system is what it is in New Hampshire. Legislators adopted a long statute of limitations to give victims the ability to come forward years after their abuse. That ability serves as a check on pedophiles, who can't take advantage of a young child without the potential they could be accused years later, Hogan said.

A potential defense witness, Tarr's wife, died in January from a thyroid disorder. The once vibrant, beautiful woman looked liked an 80-year-old when Tarr was released from jail, he said.

“I was the one getting her up, making her meals, going to the store,” Tarr said.

Tarr ran for governor after neighbors coughed up the $100 filing fee; one called him “the common man fighting for the common good,” he said.

He doesn't have a car, but a neighbor drives him to campaign events, or he walks if it's close enough. He said he'd like to look at the gray areas of the law that allow cases like his to languish.

In the meantime, he said he holds no grudge against police or prosecutors, who were doing their jobs.

As for the girls? Tarr said he is “a little upset” with them. He doesn't recognize their names, but might know them if he saw a photograph of them, he said.

He said the charges could amount to envy or payback. As a community activist he knew whom to call in the city to get things done. And as a neighborhood watch participant, he'd drop a dime on criminals.

“I think this was a way to point the finger at me,” he said about the charges, “discriminate against me publicly, humiliate me.”

mhayward@unionleader.com

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