HAVERHILL - A 34-year-old Carroll man who was the object of a police manhunt throughout New Hampshire and into Vermont in the summer of 2012 has been handed a sentence that will likely keep him in the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord for the rest of his life.
In a sentencing last week that prompted him to ask the judge for the death penalty instead - a prison term so steep his attorney called it "cruel and unusual punishment" - Kevin A. Balch received 63½ to 127 years behind bars.
The Grafton County Superior Court hearing in North Haverhill before Judge Peter H. Bornstein followed Balch's January conviction by jury on 14 felonies, including burglary and receiving stolen property.
But it was his decision to steal six guns during burglaries at two Bethlehem homes in September 2010 that ensured Balch would probably not see daylight again. At the time of those break-ins he was already a three-time convicted felon. Stealing the guns made him a felon in possession of firearms six times when he was convicted of those charges this year.
Under provisions enacted by the New Hampshire Legislature, each conviction on a "special felony" possession charge carries a mandatory sentence of 10 to 20 years; up to 120 years in all in Balch's case, just on those six charges.
Bornstein also issued him 3½ to seven years on two burglary counts, and a suspended sentence on his convictions for six counts of receiving stolen property.
Serving the minimum would make Balch 97-years-old when he left prison.
"It's insane, but it's because of the legislation. This is a horribly, horribly sad case," Balch's attorney, Leonard Harden of Lancaster, said Friday.
Harden said Balch would appeal. "Of course, why wouldn't he? What else does he have to do?" the attorney asked.
Harden said, against his advice, Balch had earlier decided not to accept a plea agreement. Since he couldn't recall if the details of that offer had been made public in court, Harden declined to discuss how much prison time his client would have received under that agreement.
"He did turn down a plea deal. That was his decision. The guy has struggled his whole life. He was abused as a child. This is not a guy who makes good choices," Harden said.
Deputy Grafton County Attorney Melissa Pierce, the prosecutor, had a different assessment of Balch in an interview Friday.
"He's a career criminal; a career burglar," who has left a long trail of victims throughout the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont and in the North Country, she said.
In court Thursday, Bornstein acknowledged that the sentence was very long. Asked the following day if she thought the prison term Balch faces was just, Pierce replied, "It is what it is because the legislature said so."
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshal's Service, launched an extensive search for Balch in June 2012 that encompassed much of New Hampshire and parts of eastern Vermont. He was wanted for multiple burglaries, including in Lebanon and surrounding towns in both states.
Harden last week described Balch as a "North Country guy" and that's where authorities focused their search before they arrested him last summer in Littleton. According to court documents, in addition to living in Carroll, Balch also evidently maintained a Cornish address for a time, or was at least able to receive mail there in care of another person.
He was also on parole when he was caught, and was being sought by New Hampshire Probation and Parole Department investigators who had a warrant for his arrest.
Lebanon Police Chief Jim Alexander said at the time his officers were working with police departments in Claremont and Thetford, Vt., on the burglaries, and had recovered some of the items stolen from two homes.
Police did not offer details of Balch's arrest, but said, in addition to the Marshals Service and Littleton officers, police from Dover, Nottingham and Enfield had worked to find him.