Deposing witnesses critical to state’s case against Barnaby and Caplin, prosecutor tells judge

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Murder suspects Anthony Barnaby, second from left, and David Caplin, right, listen to the proceedings at their status hearings Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court South. Barnaby is flanked by his lawyers, Attorneys Alan Cronheim, left, and Mark Sisti.

NASHUA – One witness in Nashua’s notorious 1988 double murder case for which original suspects David Caplin and Anthony Barnaby currently await trial recently told Nashua police he didn’t want to talk to them about the case.

Another said he might be willing to either testify at Caplin’s and Barnaby’s upcoming trials, or at least allow prosecutors to depose him, but coming to New Hampshire might be risky for him: He has arrest warrants pending out of Nshua, Milford and Amherst.

Meanwhile, a married couple told Canadian authorities, who contacted the couple on behalf of Nashua investigators, that they have no intention of coming to testify at the trials.

And another potential witness, now living in the Toronto area, didn’t return any of investigators’ calls, then eventually found out why from his wife: He’d had open heart surgery and wasn’t able to travel for months.

So went the testimony on Monday of Nashua police Detective Patrick Hannon, who took the stand at a hearing on the status of Caplin’s and Barnaby’s cases in Hillsborough County Superior Court South.

Hannon, first under direct questioning by Assistant Attorney general Susan Morrell, then in cross-examination by the men’s defense teams, told the court where things stand relative to the 11 people whose testimony, Morrell said, is crucial to the state’s ability to properly prosecute Caplin and Barnaby.

Each is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, which accuse them of killing two women in their Mason Street apartment in early October 1988.

The victims, Charlene Ranstrom and Brenda Warner, lived upstairs in the large multi-unit building, and Barnaby, then later Caplin, were living in a first-floor unit.

Barnaby and Caplin were arrested shortly after the murders and charged, but neither was ever convicted. Barnaby was freed after three juries in three separate trials failed to convict him. Caplin never went to trial; prosecutors, after receiving a series of adverse Supreme Court rulings, elected to drop the charges.

Now, the men are scheduled to stand trial in the spring, just months before the 30th anniversary of the murders.

By agreement of their lawyers, Caplin will go first. His jury selection is scheduled for March 6-13, with testimony to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 14. The trial is estimated to run through Thursday, April 5.

As for Barnaby, jury selection is scheduled for May 7-14, with testimony to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 15, and run through Friday, June 15.

Meanwhile, at Monday’s hearing, Morrell implored Judge Jacalyn Colburn to allow the state to move forward in its efforts to take depositions from as many of the potential witnesses as possible.

That step had been on hold for several months, as the parties awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on an appeal filed by the state regarding an earlier Superior Court order that limited the state’s depositions to just two witnesses – one for each case.

In its ruling, the high court vacated the Superior Court order and remanded the matter back to Superior Court, setting the stage for Morrell to argue that the state should be granted its motion to depose multiple witnesses.

“The burden is on the state to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the witnesses are unlikely to appear (to testify), because of reluctance, health issues or they can’t be located,” Morrell told Colburn.

“The state can meet that burden … to show that these depositions are necessary,” she added, noting the “extraordinary circumstances of this case.”

Even if Colburn gave the state the go-ahead to take depositions from its 11 potential witnesses, Morrell noted, locating them and getting them to cooperate would be a formidable challenge.

Further complicating matters for the state, she added, is the fact that New Hampshire authorities cannot compel Canadian citizens – which the witnesses are – to testify or give depositions.

“The state’s concern is these witnesses can’t absolutely be compelled to testify,” Morrell said, adding that if they refuse, “the state would have no remedy.

“We need these depositions. They are essential, to preserve their testimony,” she said.

One thing the state does have going for it is the willingness of Canadian officials to help out, Morrell said.

“They’re very familiar with the case. We understand they’re very willing to assist us,” she said. If needed, she said, the Canadian officials said they could set up a tele-conferencing system that would allow the depositions to take place in Canada and be live-streamed in the Nashua courtroom.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, or