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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lawyers for convicted murderer Steven Spader object to unsealing psychiatric evaluations, interviews

NASHUA – Steven Spader’s attorneys are arguing that two psychiatric evaluations and interviews with his parents should remain secret because they amount to a pre-sentencing evaluation, which conventionally are sealed.

The Telegraph and New Hampshire Union Leader each filed motions to unseal the state’s sentencing memorandum following Spader’s second sentencing hearing in April. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin filed the motion, as well as attachments including two psychiatrists reports and depositions of Spader’s mother and father, under seal at the request of defense attorneys Jonathan Cohen and Andrew Winters. ...

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NASHUA – Steven Spader’s attorneys are arguing that two psychiatric evaluations and interviews with his parents should remain secret because they amount to a pre-sentencing evaluation, which conventionally are sealed.

The Telegraph and New Hampshire Union Leader each filed motions to unseal the state’s sentencing memorandum following Spader’s second sentencing hearing in April. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin filed the motion, as well as attachments including two psychiatrists reports and depositions of Spader’s mother and father, under seal at the request of defense attorneys Jonathan Cohen and Andrew Winters.

Cohen and Winters filed objections to the motions to unseal the documents and asked Judge Gillian Abramson to hold a hearing on the motions in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester. They argued the reports amount to pre-sentencing investigation, which usually are done following a conviction to provide judges information he or she would need to impose a sentence. Those reports normally are sealed and not open to the public, the lawyers argued in their objection.

“The practice of sealing pre-sentence reports is consistent with the federal court practice and many, (if) not all, other state court systems,” according to the objection.

The papers argued that the court documents should be presumed open unless Spader can prove there is a compelling reason to seal them.

After first filing a motion that it had no objection to unsealing the documents, the state Attorney General’s Office then filed an objection to Spader’s objection.

When Spader had his attorneys read an apology in which he claimed remorse and that his crimes were impulsive, he contradicted central tenants of the charges against him and the state’s arguments that he get life in prison. Those arguments included that he has shown no remorse and carefully planned the murder, according to Strelzin’s objection.

That contradiction amounted to Spader waiving any right he may have had to confidentiality, Strelzin argued.

“He cannot complain now that documents pertaining to those issues should be kept confidential by asking the court to turn the state’s adversarial pleading into something it isn’t; a neutral document prepared by an uninterested party,” according to the motion.

Cohen and Winters argue in their objection that opening pre-sentencing investigation documents would damage the confidentiality of the sources interviewed as part of the investigations and make people interviewed in the future, including defendants themselves, less likely to be candid and cooperative. They also pointed out that Abramson issued an extensive sentencing order that cited the state’s sentencing memorandum and that should satisfy the public’s interest in opening the documents, according to the objection.

The idea that the memorandum including first-hand knowledge and sworn statements is the same as a Department of Corrections neutral sentencing investigation is simply incorrect, Strelzin said.

Spader’s arguments rely on cases that were concerned about hearsay and misinformation, which are not applicable to the state’s memorandum, according to Strelzin’s objection.

Abramson upheld Spader’s life without parole sentence for killing Mont Vernon nurse and mother Kimberly Cates on Oct. 4, 2009, and trying to kill her daughter, Jaimie Cates.

During a hearing last month, Spader refused transport to the courthouse and instructed his defense attorneys to present no evidence on his behalf. Afterward, his lawyers read a statement in which Spader apologized to the Cates family for murdering Kimberly and attacking Jaimie.

The new sentencing hearing was required because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that sentences of mandatory life without parole for juveniles are illegal. Spader was 17 at the time of the murder.

In addition to Spader’s lifetime sentence, Abramson sentenced him to 76 years for additional crimes, the same as his original sentence.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).