LACONIA — Belknap County Sheriff Mike Moyer is outraged that four corrections officers at the New Hampshire State Prison have written letters in support of the early release of an inmate twice convicted of violent assaults on police officers.
“It’s like the school guidance counselor,” Moyer said, referencing the case of Kristie Torbick, an Exeter High School counselor who pleaded guilty last year to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student, and the support she received from former colleagues.
Moyer was especially dismayed that one of the letters of support, authored by Corrections Officer T. McLeod, was written on N.H. Department of Corrections stationery. All were signed with official titles and ranks of the letter writers.
Richard Edson, 41, formerly of Laconia, is asking to be released after serving 15 years in prison citing his efforts to rehabilitate himself while behind bars.
Edson is now serving a 22 1/2- to 65-year sentence after being convicted of second-degree assault, escape, DWI and driving after being declared a habitual offender.
“We are all supposed to be working on the same team and when I read the letters of support written by corrections officers it was very disheartening,” said Deputy Judy Estes, one of Edson’s victims.
“It’s easy to behave when you are incarcerated,” she said.
Edson, a former Golden Gloves boxer, was convicted in 2004 of pummeling Estes when she was working as a Belmont police officer and tried to place him under arrest for DWI. Testimony from Estes and Edson’s former girlfriend indicated that he repeatedly attacked the 120-pound officer before fleeing in his pickup truck. He later crashed the truck.
Sheriff Moyer doesn’t fault Edson or his lawyer for their efforts to shorten his sentence. “What I take issue with is fellow law enforcement officers writing glowing letters of support.”
Moyer, who served four years as chief of police in Laconia, was in his first year in law enforcement when Edson deliberately ran over Officer Tom Drouin with a motorcycle, fracturing Drouin’s leg and causing muscle damage that required multiple surgeries to repair.
“Tom Drouin never worked another day at the job he loved. He nearly lost his leg,” Moyer recalled.
Edson was sentenced in 1986 to three to seven years in prison after he pleaded guilty to running down Drouin.
Moyer said he once pursued Edson in a foot chase during which a fellow officer fell off a bridge and was injured.
“Policy-wise, I don’t think it is right. There is a professional disconnect. I don’t think they think of the victims,” Moyer said. He shared his concerns in a letter to Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks.
In an emailed response, Hanks told Moyer that she “did not sanction these activities” and that the letters “are not aligned with our policy nor our practices.” Her response said she planned to address the issue with her staff and offered her apologies “to your team and those affected by Mr. Edson’s crimes.”
A hearing on Edson’s sentence modification request is scheduled for Wednesday in Belknap County Superior Court.
Former Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether told the 2004 jury that Edson, a professional welterweight boxer who was said to have the punching power of a heavyweight, used his 22-years plus of fighting experience to repeatedly punch and kick Officer Estes.
Edson withdrew from a plea agreement that would have seen him sentenced to a maximum of 20 years behind bars and went to trial.
Edson’s lawyer, Colin Saniford of Chichester, said in court filings that his client has spent nearly a third of his life incarcerated and had his son, brother and mother all die while he has been behind bars.
During his lengthy lockup, Saniford said, Edson “has experienced a paradigm shift in his behavior, thanks in large part to the educational and support systems at the prison.”
In the court file, the letters of support written by correctional officers detail that Edson is a hard-working, respectful inmate, who completes any task asked of him without question and who has taken positive steps to rehabilitate himself.
In his objection, Assistant Belknap County Attorney Keith Cormier wrote that the state believes that a suspension of Edson’s minimum term is “inconsistent with the punitive goal of sentencing.”