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Supreme Court rejects 'too drunk to remember' appeal of brutal rapist sentenced to life

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 28. 2013 12:28PM

CONCORD – William Decato will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the 2009 home invasion and repeated rape of a Manchester woman after the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal in which he maintained he was incompetent to stand trial.

Decato argued he suffered from amnesia – a blackout caused by his imbibing 11 to 18 beers – the night he ripped off the screen of the woman's bedroom window, found her asleep on her living room sofa, put a cloth over her face and sexually assaulted her.

The woman, a Chinese immigrant, fought back and the cloth fell from her face, allowing her to clearly see Decato, a man she had never seen before, according to the Supreme Court decision.

The woman also saw, on a table by the sofa, a knife that was not hers. She grabbed it and the two struggled; Decato slapped and punched her in the face and she grabbed the knife, slashing him behind the ear and stabbing him in the neck.

Still, Decato continued his attack, twice forcing the woman into the shower to wash off blood.

Decato remained in the woman's home for about two hours, sexually assaulting and attempting to assault her numerous times, dragging her from room to room - living room, bathroom and bedroom.

When he finally left, Decato took the woman's bed linens and other blood-stained items from the bathroom. But he left his glasses and baseball cap behind, along with his blood throughout the apartment.

Decato was convicted in 2011 of nine counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, four counts of attempted aggravated felonious sexual assault, one count of kidnapping, one count of burglary and two counts of falsifying physical evidence.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown sentenced Decato in January 2012 to 13 concurrent prison terms of life without the possibility of parole on the sexual assault charges, and gave him an additional consecutive sentence of 28 to 36 years in prison for kidnapping, burglary, and two counts of falsifying physical evidence.

"We're definitely very happy that Mr. Decato will never be out of prison for the rest of his life," said assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Valentine who prosecuted the case along with First Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Maureen O'Neil.

She said their victim advocate will be contacting the woman to tell her about the decision.

Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Cort, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said he was pleased with the ruling, but said he had yet to read it so could not comment further. Senior Assistant Apellate Defender Stephanie Hausman, who argued Decato's appeal, said she had yet to read it and could not comment.

Decato maintained because he was unable to remember what happened between 10 p.m. the night of the attack and 3 a.m. the following morning when police picked him up, that he was incompetent to stand trial because he could not communicate relevant facts to his attorney.

He was found competent, however, by Dr. Daniel W. Comiskey, the New Hampshire Department of Corrections' chief forensic examiner. Comiskey testified at his competency hearing that Decato told him he drank 11 beers between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. the night of the attack and that he had no memory of events between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. the next day when he was found by police. Decato said he had one previous "blackout" after a drinking binge. Comiskey concluded the most likely explanation for his periods of amnesia was "consumption of a large amount of alcohol."

But, Comiskey said Decato showed no impairment in his functioning or cognitive problems and no signs of thought or mood disorder when he was interviewed. He said Decato "in general had a very good, factual understanding and rational understanding of the proceedings against him" and was competent to stand trial.

Decato argued, however, that his amnesia prevented him from challenging the victim's version of events, or "from raising a mental state or consent defense." The Supreme Court, in its 6-page, unanimous decision, said it disagreed.

"We first note that the circumstantial evidence against the defendant, including his DNA and personal effects left at the scene of the crime, was very strong."

Decato also argued that although forensic evidence put him at the scene of the crime, the state's only evidence of crimes was the victim's testimony.

"The defendant does not, however, suggest any plausible explanation for his presence in the victim's home that an intact recollection of the time period at issue could supply," the court said.

The court said the strength of the circumstantial evidence corroborates the victim' story and "belies a consent defense," that is, that the victim consented to having sex.

"There was no evidence to support that," Cort said. The only way Decato could have argued that, he said, was for him to take the stand and testify. That didn't happen.

The court listed some of the circumstantial evidence corroborating the victim's story, including: Decato's DNA and personal effects found at the scene; forced entry into the victim's home; the stab wound to Decato's neck that was still bleeding when police stopped him in the early morning following the assault; documented facial injuries to the victim; the victim's demeanor at the hospital following the assault; the removal of items from her home; and the explanation he gave to his doctor for his neck injury – that he fell – which the physician found implausible.

Decato was given the life sentences because of his previous convictions in 1997 of raping an exotic dancer and in 1998 of kidnapping and attempting to rape another stripper. He served his full 8-year sentence in those cases because he refused to participate in the prison sex offender program. He remained in prison until May 2007 after then Merrimack County Attorney Dan St. Hilaire filed the first petition to have a dangerous sexual predator civilly committed for treatment.

The petition was withdrawn, however, when experts for the both the defense and state changed their opinions that Decato was a dangerous predator likely to re-offend. He was released and in August 2009 he broke into the Manchester woman's home and raped her.

The woman, in a victim statement read at Decato's sentencing 2 ½ years ago, said "nothing feels safe" and when she closes her eyes, a horror movie unfolds.

Hillsborough Assistant County Attorney Maureen O'Neil said at the time the woman will probably never get over it.


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