Prosecutor: Convicted killer Spader 'chose' to be evil | New Hampshire
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Prosecutor: Convicted killer Spader 'chose' to be evil

New Hampshire Sunday News

August 03. 2013 8:32PM

Prosecutor Jeffery Strelzin, the state's top homocide prosecutor, called convicted killer Steven Spader a "psychopath ... who has no regard for anybody else's life." (FILE PHOTO)

When teenagers commit horrific crimes, we often look for easy explanations: an unhappy childhood, violent media, mental illness.

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.

It's who he is.

"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.

ARRAIGNMENT - Steven Spader, 18 of Brookline, in Milford District Court Tuesday (10/6/09) for arraignment on charges in the murder of Kimberly Cates and the attempted murder of her daughter 11-year-old Jaimie in their Mont Vernon home early Sunday morning.

Spader, Strelzin said, "has no regard for anybody else's life or well-being. The only person he truly cares about is himself."

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.

The crime unsettled residents across New Hampshire. And it prompted many to ask how boys from decent families, who attended church and Boy Scouts, could grow up to be killers.

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.

The Spaders said they had tried to get help for their son when he started having troubles in his teens. (See related story.)

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.

"He was not unintelligent; he was not abused. He had many opportunities and many of the luxuries of life that other people don't have.

"So he was well-equipped to make rational and certainly logical and legal decisions. And he chose not to."

Strelzin doesn't blame the parents either, noting they "did the best they could."

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."

But, he said, "in the end, people have free will, and people can choose to go off the rails. They can choose to commit horrible crimes.

"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."

He described "a terrible synergy" between Spader and Gribble, who are both serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

"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."

Had Spader and Gribble not bragged to friends about what they had done - friends who ultimately told police - is it possible they would have killed again?

"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."

"They absolutely wanted to do this again," Strelzin said. "It was part of the plan."

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.

In each case, Strelzin said, "You had two people who committed the murders ... you had young males in each case. You had completely random attacks.

"Similar weapons were used, cutting instruments. ... Knives in the Hanover case, and here (in Mont Vernon), you had a knife and a machete."

And, strangely, in both, the victims were not the killers' first choice of targets. "In Hanover, they had actually targeted other homes, and here, they had actually targeted the house next door to the Cates family."

Strelzin said there were no indications that the Mont Vernon killers were imitating the Dartmouth murders. Instead, he said, "the discussions that went on amongst them concerned more notorious killers," notably the so-called Zodiac serial killer.

Lt. James Geraghty, commander of New Hampshire State Police's Major Crimes Unit, was the lead investigator in the Cates case.

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.

"I think random crimes are so few and far between in New Hampshire, and this was so random, it scared people," he said.

"People went and got dogs. People went and got guns. People put bars on their windows. It just struck home."

What also shocked many local residents, Geraghty said, was that the teens came from families who were respected in their communities. "I think that's what gets people, is that they knew these kids," he said.

Of all the cases he has worked in his five years in major crimes, Geraghty said, this one stands out. "You know why it was different? Because we had a live victim. And we don't get a lot of live victims."

Watching Jaimie Cates grow up has been impressive, Geraghty said. "Because I saw the strength in that little girl."

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.

He and other troopers who worked on the case play in the tournament. "It's nice to see that family and the strength that they showed," he 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.

"You can't meet David and Jaimie Cates and not walk away affected," he said.

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.''

"But you can give people a small measure of justice and maybe the chance to get a little bit of peace in their lives."

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.

"And it's not because they got sick, not because they got old, not because they had an accident. It's because somebody ... decided to take them away from you.

"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."

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