Murder conviction in 2009 Merrimack iPod stabbing death affirmed
CONCORD - The state Supreme Court upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a Merrimack man in the 2009 stabbing death of Christopher Vydfol of Nashua.
In an eight-page decision released Friday, the court affirmed the conviction of Cory Furgal, now 27, of Merrimack, who is serving a 40-to-life sentence in the death of Vydfol, 20. The jurists, in an unanimous ruling, said presiding judge Diane Nicolosi did not err in her instructions to the jury.
However, they said, in the future, where supported by some evidence in the record, judges should instruct juries that a defendant was entitled to use deadly force in self-defense against a person that the defendant reasonably believed, acting alone or in concert with others, was about to confine him with the purpose of causing or with knowledge of a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury. Nicolosi did not give that precise jury instruction, but the jurists ruled the instruction she did give was adequate and, as a result, did not entitle Furgal to a new trial.
Vydfol was stabbed once in the chest by Furgal during a Halloween party three years ago at the home of Robert Brackett in Merrimack. Furgal maintained he stabbed Vydfol in self-defense as Vydfol was holding him and as other angry guests were coming towards him, partiers he feared were going to seriously harm him. Prosecutors maintained Vydfol was acting the role of peacemaker in a dispute over a missing iPod when Furgal stabbed him.
The Supreme Court, in summarizing the case, said Furgal was an uninvited guest but was allowed in to the party. Later that night, tempers flared on the back porch when a guest discovered his iPod was missing and Furgal refused to empty his pockets.
Furgal pulled out a knife and shouted obscenities at a group of guests who gathered around him. Vydfol tried to defuse the situation and helped persuade Furgal to put the knife away.
A fight broke out anyway and some of the guests tried to throw Furgal over a porch railing. Vydfol held onto him to prevent him from falling but then Furgal jumped over the railing and Vydfol chased after him. The two men went around the house and down the driveway. Furgal and some of the other partiers, some of whom were involved in the original fight, were hurling obscenities and "talking trash." Some of the guests may have had baseball bats, the court said.
At some point, Vydfol put his arms around Furgal, telling him no one was going to do anything. Furgal pulled out the knife again and Vydfol told him to put it away. Furgal told him to "get off" him.
Vydfol had his hands on Furgal's shoulders when Furgal stabbed him in the chest after hearing the sound of metal dragging across concrete and seeing what he thought was someone approaching with something in his hand.
In its appeal, the defense said if Furgal stabbed Vydfol he did so only "to defend himself against what he reasonably believed to be use of deadly force against him by Christopher Vydfol who acted in concert with other named and unnamed individuals." Defense lawyers also argued the judge erred when she ruled all evidence of a prior altercation involving Vydfol the night before he was murdered was inadmissible.
The Supreme Court said while the judge did not include a specific instruction the defense wanted - that Furgal was entitled to use deadly force against Vydfol if he reasonably believed Vydfol had confined or restrained him to allow others to use deadly force against him - she did instruct jurors to consider all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. And, the jurists pointed out, the defense argued the self-defense theory in closing arguments and the state did not argue that the jury could not consider whether Vydfol acted in concert with others.
The Supreme Court also said the judge was correct when she barred evidence being put before the jury of an alleged incident the night before the murder during which an unidentified stranger allegedly punched Vydfol in the face outside Brackett's home. Furgal was not present at the incident and Nicolosi found that it was irrelevant.