Prosecutor: Convicted killer Spader 'chose' to be evil
But it wasn't the system, or his parents, that failed Steven Spader and turned him into someone who would murder a woman in her bed with a machete and maim her young daughter, the state's top homicide prosecutor says.
"He's a psychopath," Jeffery Strelzin said of Spader, now 21, who was convicted of killing Kimberly Cates in her Mont Vernon home in 2009 and the attempted murder of her then-11-year-old daughter.
And that's the only explanation for why Spader and his friend Christopher Gribble were able to commit such a horrific crime "and to show no remorse except for the fact that they were caught," Strelzin said.
Last week, a judge granted a request by the New Hampshire Union Leader to unseal court documents in the Spader case, including depositions by his parents, Steven and Christine Spader, who adopted Steven when he was 5 days old.
Asked whether the system failed the Spader family, Strelzin said, "No. Because this is a case of someone who made a conscious decision to go out and randomly attack and kill innocent people.
"So he was well-equipped to make rational and certainly logical and legal decisions. And he chose not to."
He understands the public's need to "give order to disorder," Strelzin said.
"Nobody wants to accept that often the simple answer is that somebody chose to do a terrible thing," he said. "They came from a good family and nobody saw it coming. Because that thought is very uncomfortable."
"And even though you treat them very well and you equip them with what you hope are the right skills they need to make the right decisions, they can still choose not to."
"They don't care about other people, and unfortunately they took great satisfaction in inflicting pain and mayhem on innocent people. It gave them a sense of power and pleasure. That's who they are."
"Yes," Strelzin said at once. It's why the killers chose their victims at random, making it less likely they would be caught, he said. And it's why, while they disposed of their bloody clothing in a river after the murder, they buried their weapons "so they could use them again."
There were echoes in the Mont Vernon case of another horrific crime committed by a pair of teenage boys: the murder of Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop in 2001.
"Similar weapons were used, cutting instruments. ... Knives in the Hanover case, and here (in Mont Vernon), you had a knife and a machete."
His impression of Spader? "He's just bad right to the core."
Geraghty said it was in part the randomness of the crime that shook so many across the state.
"People went and got dogs. People went and got guns. People put bars on their windows. It just struck home."
Each year, David Cates holds a golf tournament on the anniversary of the attack, for a scholarship in his wife's name. "To take back the date," Geraghty said.
To this day, Strelzin keeps a photo of Kim, David and Jaimie Cates on his desk. It's a measure of how deeply this case touched him.
As a prosecutor, he said, "you can never make it right in a murder case, because the victim's gone forever and there's nothing you can do.''
For the families of murder victims, he said, the case will never really be over. "Because every birthday, every holiday, every significant event, is just a reminder that your ... loved ones are gone.
"That's not something everyday life equips you to deal with," he said. "And when you meet these families, you see what the lasting effects are."