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James R. Robarge appeared in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport Wednesday. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)

Robarge defense asks to keep prison communications private

NEWPORT — At a hearing in Sullivan County Superior Court Wednesday, defense attorneys for the Charlestown man accused of killing his estranged wife last June said their client has a reasonable expectation of privacy when using the phone while incarcerated.

James R. Robarge, 44, is being held at the Sullivan County House of Corrections in Unity.

He was indicted on first- and second-degree murder charges by the Sullivan County Grand Jury in December for allegedly killing his wife of 24 years, Kelly Robarge, 42, on June 27, at her home in Charlestown.

Public defender Alex Parsons said he does not object to the House of Corrections recording phone conversations of inmates as a security measure for the facility, but said, “There is no connection between facility security and having police and prosecutors take into possession communications that have nothing to do with the case.”

He said review of his client’s conversations could give prosecutors insight into Robarge’s emotional state, pressure points, family dynamics or feelings about testifying.

“There are things that are not evidence, that are inherently private, but could give the state an unfair advantage,” Parsons said.

Parsons added it could also place him in a situation where he would himself have to review hundreds of hours of phone conversations to properly represent his client. The amount of discovery in the case is already vast, he said.

Assistant attorney general Diana Fenton said the state at this time is only asking to review two conversations, not hundreds of hours. She also said review of such communications is routine in similar criminal cases.

Judge Brian Tucker asked how Robarge could have a reasonable expectation of privacy knowing the House of Corrections records his conversations and that use of such communications in investigations is routine.

Parsons said Robarge is not incarcerated to facilitate the state prosecution’s investigation. He also said Robarge could be declining phone calls knowing they could be reviewed by prosecutors. Denying Robarge the ability to communicate with others would be cruel and unusual punishment, Parsons said. He said Robarge is alone in his cell 23 hours a day. When he is not in the cell he is showering alone or in the yard alone.

Public defender Caroline Smith said she expects Tucker to issue a written decision on the arguments at a later date.

The attorneys also discussed scheduling. Senior assistant attorney general Susan Morrell said the state would have difficulty meeting the Jan. 15 trial date, because of her caseload with other trials and the tremendous amount of discovery in the Robarge case. Smith told Tucker, Robarge would like to keep the January date and she and Parsons would be able to meet it.

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