Bail denied for man accused of beating his estranged wife to death
James Robarge enters Sullivan County Superior Court during his lengthy arraignment and bail hearing Thursday. (Meghan Pierce)
NEWPORT — The man accused of killing his estranged wife last June was denied bail at a hearing in Sullivan County Superior Court.
James R. Robarge, 44, was indicted on first- and second-degree murder charges by the Sullivan County Grand Jury last month in the death of his wife of 24 years, Kelly Robarge, 42, on June 27. She died of blunt force trauma at her home at 124 Happy Acres Road in Charlestown.
During Robarge's arraignment Thursday morning, state police Detective Sgt. John Sonia gave more than two hours of testimony outlining the case against Robarge.
On July 6, Kelly Robarge's remains were found in a wooded area near an off-road trail about 300 yards off Britton Road in Unity.
"Kelly Robarge's body was badly decomposed," Sonia said.
Investigators said they found blood splatter and evidence that large amounts of blood had been cleaned up at Kelly Robarge's home.
Evidence also includes the testimony of two friends of Kelly Robarge, Sonia said.
One friend, Erion Kimball, told police Kelly Robarge had told her that James Robarge had threatened to kill Kelly and put her body in a wood chipper if she ever filed for divorce. The other friend, Lori Laird, told police she had a phone conversation with Kelly Robarge the day she was killed shortly after filing for divorce, Sonia said. During the conversation, Laird urged her friend not to tell James Robarge about the divorce filing alone, but to wait until another person was present.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell presented text messages between Kelly Robarge and Laird on June 27. A text at 11:14 a.m. reads, "Yes, now I'm home and he is here."
Alex Parsons, one of Robarge's defense attorneys, argued that none of the text messages name Robarge, saying all that can be concluded is that a man was at the house with Kelly Robarge at that time.
Sonia said that based on the phone call between Kelly Robarge and Laird, in between the text messages, the women were talking about James Robarge.
Hours later, between 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., a neighbor heard yelling from the property, Sonia said.
Parsons said there is no evidence it was James Robarge that Kelly Robarge was arguing with.
Investigators believe Kelly was killed between that argument and 3:30 p.m. when Ciera Robarge, one of the couple's daughters, arrived at the home.
James Robarge told his daughter he had arrived at the home that afternoon to find his 1-year-old grandson alone, sitting on the couch and crying, the dogs were fighting and Kelly Robarge not at home.
Sonia said investigators believe Robarge had Kelly Robarge in the trunk of his car at the time and took her with him when he told his daughter he was going to look for her mother.
Investigators said he went first to his stepfather's home in Vermont and then to Unity, where he was later found by a police officer and a state trooper. His car had suffered under carriage damage, allegedly from traveling on the off-road trail. Blood soaked towels and the truck mat of his car were found near his broken down car. State lab tests revealed the blood was Kelly Robarge's. The shorts James was wearing also had Kelly's and James' blood on them, Sonia said.
Sonia said no weapons have been found, and that Robarge could have been killed with a weapon or hands and feet.
Sonia said the medical examiner ruled Kelly died of "homicidal violence by undetermined means."
Sonia said the blood splatter found in the home indicates blunt force, not just someone falling.
Parson argued the autopsy ruled the death a homicide, but does not say what the "mechanism" of Robarge's death was.
James Robarge told investigators he last saw Kelly on June 26 around 5:45 p.m. and did not see her the day of her death, Parsons said, adding Robarge has continued to deny killing Kelly Robarge.
Defense attorney Caroline Smith said the evidence given was circumstantial and did not support the first- and second-degree charges because the evidence does not point to premeditation.
Judge Brian T. Tucker asked if the wood chipper threat would constitute premeditation.
Morrell supported the evidence saying: "It's all encompassing. It doesn't hinge on one single item. ... It's the totality of it."
Tucker ruled prosecutors had met their burden of evidence and said Robarge would continue to be held without bail until his trial.
Outside the courtroom, Morrell said pretrial hearings would commence, but the trial is likely a year to a year and a half away.
Several family members were at the hearing, including the Robarge's grown daughters, Gabrielle and Ciera.
At the time of Robarge's death, the couple was estranged and Robarge had been living with his stepfather in Saxon's River, Vt.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Robarge's aunt, Earline Munsey of Vermont, said all of the evidence points to her nephew, but she still can't believe he committed the crime.
"I can't believe that he did do that. I've known him since he was five, and I can't believe it."