Updated: Hired investigators say Jesse Brooks didn't plot murder
MANCHESTER -- Private investigators on Monday detailed what they claimed were overly aggressive police tactics and prosecutorial misconduct they said led to the 2009 conviction of Jesse Brooks on conspiracy for murder charges.
Four investigators said Brooks, 33, was convicted based on false testimony from the people who actually were involved and convicted in the 2005 murder of Derry handyman Jack Reid. Brooks father, John "Jay" Brooks, is serving a life sentence on a murder-for-hire conviction.
During a press conference Monday, Lorraine Brooks - the mother of Jesse Brooks and the wife of Jay Brooks - voiced pointed criticism toward the prosecutors in her son's case, including then New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte.
"The attention around this case helped catapult Kelly Ayotte into a seat in the U.S. Senate," Lorraine Brooks said. "Others in her department also used this case for political gain and career advancement. Senator Kelly Ayotte and Janice Rundles looked at Jesse as nothing more than collateral damage in their pursuit of power and both are directly to blame for this injustice."
In a statement issued Monday night, Ayotte said, "That's absurd. The charges against him were brought based on the evidence of the crimes he committed."?
Jesse Brooks was not present at the Reid murder, but he was convicted of helping to plan it and is serving a 17- to 30-year sentence on a conspiracy charge. He currently is incarcerated in Arizona.
Last week, a new set of attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus in Merrimack County Superior Court, saying Brooks' trial lawyers were ineffective. They asked the conviction be vacated.
Homicide prosecutor Jeffery Strelzin said Monday that he has read the pleading. He noted the court filing deals with ineffective representation by Brooks' attorneys, not prosecutorial or police misconduct.
"We're going to respond to their allegations in court," he said.
Investigators speaking Monday came from Los Angeles, Alaska, Massachusetts and Chicago; most of them work for $200 an hour, but they would not say how much Lorraine Brooks has spent so far on the investigation.
They have also established a website: www.justiceforjessebrooks.org.
"What they did was retry Jay Brooks," said Joseph Moura of Massachusetts-based National Investigation Bureau. "Basically, the son paid for the sins of the father."
According to the investigators yesterday, problems with the Jesse Brooks case include:
-- Police did not do enough work to test conspirator Joseph Vrooman's allegation that Jesse Brooks met with him, Jay Brooks and Jesse Brooks' girlfriend, Brandy Bowles, on June 16, 2005, in Las Vegas to plot the murder. Investigators said they have a paper trail that shows Jesse Brooks was at a courthouse that day with his lawyer, then at a doctor's office, then at a pharmacy.
-- No forensic evidence was found to corroborate the story that Reid was murdered in a Deerfield barn on June 27, 2005.
In fact, a forensic investigator theorized that a murder was not even planned, given that Reid's body was disposed of in a pickup truck parked in a department store lot.
"What we have here is something that went wrong, and people felt bad about it," said Dr. Brent Turvey.
The actual murderer, Michael Benton, initially told his mother in a recorded jailhouse conversation that Jesse Brooks had nothing to do with the murder. His mother told him, "If you go down for this, I hope you take Jesse with you."
Benton initially testified against Jesse Brooks.
-- Benton and Vrooman's testimony contradicted one another.
-- Other potential witnesses were pressured -- one was arrested on a bench warrant on Christmas Day -- and their statements were twisted or made up.
--The writ filed in court faults Jesse Brooks' original lawyers for not consulting with him enough or preparing him for possible testimony, deciding not to put him on the witness stand, not presenting any defense and not effectively cross examining witnesses.
But the press conference focused more on actions by police and prosecutors.
"Prosecutorial conduct in this case is outrageous," said Paul Ciolino, who has freed five men from death row and is lead investigator to the Innocence Projects at Northwestern Law School.