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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Murderer pleads for a pardon

September 07. 2018 6:09PM

Much of what the Executive Council does is fairly routine - approving state contracts and confirming the governor's nominees to key positions. But recently, Democratic councilor Andru Volinsky and Republican Joe Kenney took on an unusual task. They traveled to the state prison in Berlin to meet with a convicted murderer who wants a gubernatorial pardon from his sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Gary Place has been serving that sentence since he was convicted in the spring of 1984 in one of New Hampshire's most highly publicized murder trials. A Vietnam veteran who claimed post-traumatic stress in his defense, Place was convicted in the brutal murder of his fiance, who was trying to end the relationship.

When the police arrived at the woman's Concord apartment, they found her dead in her bedroom. An autopsy confirmed that she had been strangled with an electrical extension cord and stabbed seven times in the heart.

Among those urging the council to schedule a hearing on the pardon request is attorney John A. Malmberg, now with the firm of Orr and Reno. He was an assistant attorney general in the criminal division in the early 1980s and prosecuted the case along with attorney Brian Tucker, now a Superior Court judge.

"The case was notable at the time, because it was the first trial in the state of New Hampshire in which cameras were permitted in the courtroom during the trial," Malmberg writes in a Sept. 4 letter to Gov. Chris Sununu and the five-member council.

"In addition, Mr. Place's defense attributing the homicide to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arising from his service in Vietnam was the first time this defense was used in a homicide prosecution anywhere in the United States. Thus the case attracted significant statewide and national attention."

Earlier this year, at the urging of Cathy Green, Place's original trial attorney and attorney for his petition for conditional pardon, Malmberg agreed to meet with Place. That meeting and his review of the petition convinced Malmberg to endorse the request for a pardon hearing.

"I do not believe that Mr. Place presents any continuing danger to the public," Malberg writes. "On the contrary, I believe he will provide important service to the public if he is allowed to live the rest of his life outside of the prison subject to parole, and has the opportunity to provide guidance to others about the issues that affected his life and continue to affect the lives of so many others."

Councilor Kenney said he agreed to the prison visit out of respect for Place's family, which he described as "a nice family living in the Concord area." He says he is inclined to support the petition for a pardon hearing, citing the fact that more is now known about PTSD, and the victim's only living sibling, a sister, is supporting the request.

"All that prompted me to want to get up there and find out more about the story," he said. "We need to hear more from the attorney general about the procedural aspects of a pardon hearing, but I believe most likely a pardon hearing will be requested."

Councilor Dave Wheeler says he plans to oppose the request, pointing out that the state offered Place a second-degree murder plea bargain but he turned it down and decided to go to trial.

"I'm hoping councilors can be convinced that Mr. Place had a history of domestic violence, and all this happened while he was still married. It was a brutal, brutal murder," said Wheeler.

While Malmberg believes that Place's work with fellow inmates demonstrates the kind of good he could do outside the prison, Wheeler will argue that good work should continue behind bars.

"This crime was just so bad," Wheeler said. "He's trying to make it all about him, and it's not about him. It was a crime against his girlfriend and society. I understand he's been on good behavior in jail and trying to help other people, but he should continue doing that for the rest of his life.

"If we do this for him, we are setting a precedent that we have to do this for everyone else in similar circumstances, and it would be a slap in the face to other victims of domestic violence."

The council voted unanimously to table the request until the Sept. 19 meeting.

Even if a hearing is held, a pardon looks unlikely, according to Sununu's legal counsel John Formella.

"Based on the information that he has received to date, Gov. Sununu does not believe that there is a sufficient justification to grant Mr. Place's request for a conditional pardon," said Formella. "However, in the interest of transparency and due process, the governor is willing to hold a hearing on the request if a majority of the council votes to do so."

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