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Judge: Cash seized at scene of double homicide cannot be kept by state

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent

October 19. 2017 11:30PM
This photo was taken when state police searched Dean Smoronk's house on July 18 for clues about the deaths of Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pellegrini. A judge has ruled that drug related cash seized during a February search cannot be kept by the state. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)



Dean Smoronk

DOVER — A judge at Strafford County Superior Court has ruled the state cannot keep the thousands of dollars seized during a search of a Farmington home where two women were brutally murdered earlier this year.

Christine Sullivan, 48, and Jenna Pellegrini, 32, were stabbed to death Jan. 27 inside Dean Smoronk’s house, located at 979 Meaderboro Road. Prosecutors say Timothy Verrill, 35, of Dover, killed the women and he has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder.

On Feb. 3, state police searched the home and found $14,146 in cash they say is related to drug activity.

According to court documents, when state police entered the master bedroom of Smoronk’s house, they found syringes, miscellaneous drugs, a glass methamphetamine pipe, a small clipboard with a white envelope, a ledger of drug sales and a “hide” under a rug on the floor.

Police also discovered drugs in two guest rooms, and on an enclosed porch they found a digital scale with white residue and a bag of crystalized powder in a metal tin, which was put into a FedEx package.

Smoronk’s attorney, Harry Starbranch, of Portsmouth, filed a motion to dismiss the forfeiture case, and Judge Mark Howard recently allowed it. Starbranch argued the attorney general’s petition was not filed in a timely manner. It was filed 61 days after the statutory filing period began, which is beyond the legal limit of 60 days.

According to the facts of the case laid out in Howard’s order, on April 3 — 59 days after the search and seizure — a representative from the state placed the forfeiture petition in the mail for delivery to the Strafford County Clerk of Court. The petition arrived on April 5.

“While only by one day, the petition was clearly filed outside of the statutory filing period. The legislative command accordingly requires that the petition be dismissed,” Howard wrote in his analysis.

“The result of this case, while the unfortunate consequence of a simple mistake, is consistent with the holdings of the federal courts under the analogous forfeiture provisions of the Civil Assets Forfeiture Reform Act,” Howard continued.

Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said Thursday that the forfeiture dismissal only applies to the cash, not other drug related items.

“Illegal drugs would not be returned under these circumstances or, quite frankly, under any circumstances,” Ward said.

Ward said he cannot comment on what drug charges Smoronk might face in New Hampshire or on the federal level.

Smoronk was charged in June with manufacturing and distributing drugs after Virginia State Police allegedly discovered evidence that he was manufacturing and selling steroids. Police said that when they pulled him over, Smoronk was in possession of needles, capsules, a pipe and drugs.

Smoronk is also accused of obstructing justice for his behavior during the incident.

Dusty Cousens of Berwick, Maine, and Nicholas Batista, of Rochester, also were arrested during the traffic stop.

Smoronk is still being held at Pamunkey Regional Jail in Virginia, according to its website.

Verrill, who was arrested in Massachusetts on Feb. 6, is being held without bail at the Carroll County House of Corrections and is scheduled to be arraigned at Strafford County Superior Court Nov. 17.


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