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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New documents about murderer Steven Spader’s sentencing show a family struggling to control a teenager’s actions

NASHUA – Steven Spader is many things.

He is his parents’ only child, who they adopted when he was just days old. ...

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NASHUA – Steven Spader is many things.

He is his parents’ only child, who they adopted when he was just days old.

He was a personable kid who loved to play with other children in his neighborhood when he was young.

He was a mediocre athlete thanks to flat feet and asthma, but dove into drama and played Daddy Warbucks in a school production of “Annie,” even shaving his head for the role.

He was a deeply troubled teenager who found pleasure in hip-hop music that celebrates horror. He bragged about made-up killings and claimed to be in a violent street gang.

He is a murderer.

Now 21 years old, he is also a father.

Spader, the man who orchestrated the murder of 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and attack on her then-11-year-old daughter, Jaimie, fathered a child before he was arrested in October 2009. The girl was born in January 2010, according to a letter written by his mother.

“(The mother) brought her to us when she was 5 days old. We all cried,” Christine Spader wrote in documents unsealed this week at Hillsborough County Superior Court. “Steve wrote us a letter begging us to see if he could see the baby and he would be the best father in the world. We sent him photos. (The mother) came to the trial one day. I think to say good-bye.”

Christine Spader’s letter is only a few pages of the ream of documents Judge Gillian Abramson unsealed this week at the request of The Telegraph and New Hampshire Union Leader.

Now, Spader is described as almost happy in prison. After numerous infractions at Valley Street jail in Manchester, Spader has behaved at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men’s Special Housing Unit. He works out and tries to limit his carbs. He talks to his parents daily and sees them weekly. He has struck up a friendship with a 50-year-old woman who raised her own troubled son. He told his parents he has made his peace with God, Christine Spader wrote.

“This is more discipline than he has ever shown with anything before,” Christine Spader wrote. “He said that prison was good for him and that he probably would have ended up there for something no matter what we did.”

But the documents unsealed this week show that in his teens, Spader was in crisis. His parents tried everything. They brought him to psychologists and psychiatrists. They hired an advocate to make sure his school wrote him an Individualized Educational Plan. They borrowed money against their home and spent tens of thousands of dollars on programs in leadership and residential treatment programs in New York and Utah.

Nothing worked.

Spader was adopted when he was 5 days old by Steven and Christine Spader. His birth mother was a drug user, and he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana when he was born. Two years later, his biological mother contacted the Spaders when she became pregnant again, but the biological father ended up taking custody of the boy before the Spaders adopted him, according to court documents.

Spader had an otherwise normal childhood in Brookline. He was anxious at times and struggled but did well in school, played with neighborhood kids, took family vacations. His parents hugged and kissed him and told him they loved him.

Struggles in school increased in middle school and even more in high school. Spader talked about and even researched going to a boarding school because it was too stressful at school and at home, according to court documents.

Spader’s father produced a spreadsheet of significant events in his son’s life for lawyers. In it, October 2006 is marked as the first date Spader visited a psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Kelley at The Counseling Center of Nashua. Spader saw a variety of other doctors, experts and psychologists at a number of facilities and had any number of diagnoses, including bipolar disorder and major depression.

The spreadsheet also details Spader’s troubles with police and his parents. In November 2007, he went to a friend’s birthday party at the Tewksbury (Mass.) Roller Rink and met a girl. The ensuing relationship, described as “intense and turbulent” by a psychiatrist, produced Spader’s daughter and also appears to mark an important fork in Spader’s life. He went from being a boy surrounded by loving parents, Boy Scouts and school to someone who cared more about hanging out with new friends.

For these friends at Souhegan High School – where he wasn’t known, having previously attended Hollis Brookline High School – he posed as a man of action, a gangster, bragging about being a member of a street gang and committing murders. He began smoking more marijuana and doing other prescription and street drugs, according to an evaluation written by Dr. Robert Kinscherff, a psychiatrist and lawyer hired by Spader’s defense attorneys.

Spader had brief stints at psychiatric hospitals, including twice in 2008. The same year, he ran away with the mother of his child. Police in New York picked them up and returned them to New Hampshire.

There were also two violent interactions with his parents that year, once when he pointed a knife at his father. In another, police had to intervene after Spader grabbed kitchen knives and began stabbing the counters and throwing food, according to court documents.

In May 2008, Spader was enrolled in Adirondack Leadership Expeditions, which costs $500 a day, in Saranac Lake, N.Y. He left less than two weeks later when officials there said he needed a higher level of treatment than they could provide. His counselor there described him as a “house of cards,” according to court documents.

He was escorted from there to the Aspen Education Residential Treatment Center in Syracuse, Utah. That program cost $9,000 a month and was not covered by insurance. He left there within a month, according to court documents.

Kinscherff doesn’t appear to come to any firm diagnosis in his report. He said he did not observe a major mental illness when he met with Spader in June 2010.

“I do find evidence of narcissistic personality traits, borderline personality disorder trails and antisocial/asocial traits that have previously prompted a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder,” Kinscherff wrote.

Spader hasn’t shown any manic or hypomanic episodes in prison, even though he hasn’t been treated for any mental illnesses since he was arrested, according to Kinscherff’s report.

“It would be very unusual for an individual diagnosed in mid-adolescence with recurrent major depression or bipolar disorder to subsequently show no clear manifestation of mood disorder while untreated over a period of many months to years,” Kinscherff wrote.

Spader’s parents, having spent thousands to try to find help for their son, finally ran out of answers. During a deposition after Spader was convicted, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin asked Spader’s father what he wished the judge would consider about his son. His response, similar to his wife’s, was about the state’s mental health system.

“You know, certainly the crime is just beyond the scope of my imagination. I mean, I feel for the families. But obviously we’ve tried to do a lot of stuff in the mental health area here in New Hampshire, and it’s been a serious letdown,” he said. “It’s just appalling how poor it is here in this state, just absolutely appalling.

“And you know, we’ve tried to do what we can. Could we have done more? I don’t know. That’s a question I keep asking myself.”

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