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Grafton couple's killer pleads guilty

HAVERHILL - A man's trial on two counts of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting deaths of his two roommates in Grafton was due to start this month in Grafton County Superior Court.

Instead, Robert R. LaCombe, 26, has decided to accept a sentence of 55 years to life in state prison with the possibility that 15 years could eventually be taken off that prison term.

LaCombe has entered guilty pleas to two counts of second-degree murder and is now set for sentencing on Feb. 21 before Judge Timothy J. Vaughan in the North Haverhill court.

Senior Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General Janice Rundles said she would have no comment on the case "outside of court," but said prosecutors would present elements of the state's case at next week's hearing.

At previous sessions and in court filings, prosecutors and police have said that at the height of a violent June 24, 2011, argument, LaCombe fired multiple shots into the young couple who had befriended him and taken him in, killing them both.

William Hatch, 24, and Crystal Farnham, 23, according to investigators, died at their Island Road home in Grafton, a rural community along Route 4 east of Lebanon, in an attack so vicious that Hatch's body bore 16 bullet wounds in the head, neck and abdomen. His girlfriend was also shot multiple times in the head, chest and back.

Family members discovered the couple's bodies some hours after LaCombe fled the scene. He was taken into custody the following day in Randolph, Mass., where, police said, they found him with two handguns - a .45-caliber and a 9 mm - in his possession.

Prior to the plea, prosecutors had presented alternative jury options in the case, that LaCombe had either "recklessly" or "purposely" caused the deaths of Hatch and Farnham.

But had he gone to trial and been convicted of first-degree murder, LaCombe would not have been liable for the death penalty. The alleged crimes did not fit the state statute for a capital offense, Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General James Vara said last year.

Guilty verdicts following trial might well have resulted in a sentence of life without parole. If the proposed sentencing goes through as laid out, five years of LaCombe's term could be deferred after he serves 10 years; five more at 20 years, and an additional five at the 25-year mark.

To earn that time in the coming decades, LaCombe's prison behavior must include "no major disciplinary violations for violence," according to the terms of the agreement on file at the court.

Hatch and Farnham had opened their home to the jobless LaCombe some four months prior to the killings. Witnesses told police LaCombe appeared drunk earlier on the night the couple died. The primary dispute, according to court records, was between Hatch and LaCombe, and included Hatch's objection to the long-term guest's continued freeloading.

By the time police caught up with LaCombe, he had written a note apologizing for killing the couple, and stating that he was going to kill himself, according to testimony presented in Lebanon District Court following his arrest.

LaCombe is represented by New Hampshire Public Defender Caroline Smith.

bhookway@newstote.com



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