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Judge to determine scope of opening statements in Marriot murder trial

Union Leader Correspondent

May 22. 2014 8:02PM
Clad in an orange jumpsuit, Seth Mazzaglia was escorted by Strafford County deputies following a hearing in Strafford County Superior Court Thursday morning. His murder trial is expected to begin Tuesday. (JOHN QUINN/Union Leader Correspondent)

DOVER — Judge Steven Houran will decide whether to allow statements Seth Mazzaglia made to police to be included in opening statements next week as the trial begins in the 2012 murder of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Marriot.

Houran heard arguments about the statements — part of Mazzaglia’s 11-hour interview by N.H. State Police in 2012 — in Strafford County Superior Court Thursday morning.

“I’ll decide no later than Tuesday,” Houran said, adding he hopes to provide an answer Friday so the prosecution and the defense can review the decision over the long weekend.

While the jury is scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday at noon, Houran asked both sides to be ready to address any last-minute issues a half hour before the trial begins.

The following day, each side will have up to an hour to present their opening statements.

Mazzaglia, 31, who’s been held at Strafford County Jail without bail, is facing multiple counts of first-degree murder, based on alternate legal approaches to the matter, and charges of second-degree murder, conspiracy and criminal solicitation.

He allegedly strangled and/or suffocated Marriott, 19, a University of New Hampshire sophomore, at his Mill Street apartment on Oct. 9, 2012, and committed aggravated felonious sexual assault during the evening.

Mazzaglia’s attorneys, Joachim Barth and Melissa Davis of the N.H. Public Defender’s Office, previously argued the information in the transcript is inadmissible because it was collected when he “was in custody without the benefit of being read his Miranda Rights,” according to court records.

“The court’s order suppressed the statements made by Mr. Mazzaglia after a little over three hours of interrogation at 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2012, because the court made a finding that Mr. Mazzaglia was in custody as of that time,” according to court records.

Barth argued opening statements preview what views or evidence may be presented during the trial. He added he’s never had to provide evidence during an opening statement in his 22-year career.

“The state has the burden — the exclusive burden — to present evidence,” Barth said, adding the defense can also address the evidence during the trial.

“You can’t unring that bell,” Barth said, adding that even if information is suppressed by the court, it may remain in the minds of the jury.

“It is fair conduct in closing arguments,” Barth said.

Attorney Peter Hinckley, of the N.H. Attorney General’s Office, argued against allowing the defense from bringing up information from the 300-page transcript of the interview that took place Oct. 12 -13, 2012.

“Because what the defendant told investigators is inadmissible by the defense, it would be improper and prejudicial to the state for the defense to make mention of those statements in its opening statement,” according to the state’s motion, filed April 29, to preclude the information in the transcript

Hinckley said it appears the defense wants to tell jurors Mazzaglia lied to police “out of love” to protect his girlfriend and accomplice, Kathryn “Kat” McDonough. He added Mazzaglia provided “numerous false accounts” to shift the blame to other people, including McDonough, to protect himself.

“It would be, at the very least, misleading to the jurors,” Hinckley said.

McDonough, who is serving 1½ to 3 years in prison for hindering prosecution, is also expected to testify against Mazzaglia as part of a negotiated plea deal she reached with the state in July.

The state plans to introduce “limited evidence” from the 2012 interview, but has “clearly indicated that it would offer the hand-drawn map into evidence,” according to court records.

The map, which Mazzaglia allegedly provided to investigators, described where Marriott’s body was dumped off Pierce Island in Portsmouth following her death.

Marriott’s body has never been recovered.

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