Landmark plea deal sends Nashua cold-case murderer to prison for at least 7 1/2 years

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup David Caplin enters the courtroom Wednesday for his plea and sentencing hearing on the charges stemming from the murders of two Nashua women in 1988.

NASHUA – Leslie Warner, who nearly 30 years ago lost his little sister in a spate of violence as sudden as it was brutal, spoke through his emotions for about 10 minutes in a hushed courtroom Wednesday morning, then turned to face one of the two men charged with killing his sister and her lifelong partner.

“Before I go, David, I’m going to show you what kind of man I am,” Warner said, fixing his gaze on David Caplin, who was about to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder for his role in the Oct. 3, 1988, stabbing deaths of Brenda Warner and Charlene Ranstrom in their Mason Street apartment.

“David … I’m going to look you in the face, and I’m going to say 10 words that you will always remember.

“I forgive you for what you did to my sister.”

Leslie Warner’s comments came during a particularly compelling moment in his frank, sometimes sharply-worded, victim impact statement, one of three read before Judge Jacalyn Colburn during Caplin’s plea and sentencing hearing in Hillsborouigh County Superior Court South.

After negotiations that Assistant Attorney

General Susan Morrell said went on “for a lengthy period of time,” Caplin, 56, agreed to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, in exchange for two prison terms of 10-20 years each, to be served consecutively.

Prosecutors also agreed to suspend five years of the combined minimum sentence “in consideration of (Caplin’s) truthful and complete proffer,” meaning that he agrees to provide truthful information to prosecutors if they question him about facts, and his involvement, in the murders.

The minimum sentence is further reduced by the state’s agreement that he be credited with the 2,822 days – roughly 7 1/2 years – he’s spent in jail, both following his arrest in 1989 and since he was re-arrested and returned to New Hampshire.

Prosecutors said they also agree to do what they can to allow Caplin to serve his sentence in Maine.

The agreement also requires Caplin, when he is released from prison, to return immediately to his native Canada, and never again enter the United States voluntarily.

Prosecutors also retain the right to compel Caplin to testify at the trial of his alleged accomplice, Anthony Barnaby, which is scheduled to begin in August.

Both men were charged with identical offenses: Two counts each of first-degree murder and second-degree murder. Caplin’s agreement called for the dismissal of the two first-degree murder charges.

Barnaby, who was arrested shortly after the murders, went to trial three times, but each of them ended in mistrials. When prosecutors chose not to try him a fourth time, he was freed and returned to his native Canada.

Caplin, charged months after the murders, never went to trial; prosecutors eventually dropped the charges citing lack of evidence.

Now, with Caplin’s case wrapped up, the focus turns to Barnaby, whose trial is currently scheduled to begin with jury selection on Aug. 27.

Caplin’s trial had been scheduled to start May 21; it wasn’t immediately known if the parties ask the court to move Barnaby’s trial up to the time frame allotted for Caplin’s.

Attorney Mark Sisti, who is representing Barnaby with Attorney Alan Cronheim, was present for Wednesday’s hearing. He initially sat at the defense table with Caplin’s lawyers, Attorneys Ray Raimo and Cathy Green, but moved to the gallery once proceedings got underway.

Asked if Caplin’s decision to plead guilty could have any effect on Barnaby’s case, Sisti was brief.

“Mr. Caplin pleaded guilty, because he is guilty,” he said. “Mr. Barnaby pleaded not guilty and is going to trial, because he is not guilty.”

Morrell, who was joined Wednesday by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock, told the court that while “the state’s case against (Caplin) is very strong, we’re also realistic in our assessment of prosecuting a 30-year-old murder case.

“The sentence the state has recommended is about the best possible outcome,” Morrell said.

About a dozen members of Warner’s and Ranstrom’s families attended the hearing, filling the first two rows behind the prosecutors’ table.

The two rows behind them were occupied by former Nashua police officers who worked on the case.

Colburn, in pronouncing sentence, said she put the “most emphasis on the impact on the families.”

“The extent of their losses, and the suffering they endured the past 30 years, is incomprehensible,” she said.

Had the families of Warner and Ranstrom not supported the plea agreement, Colburn said, “there is no chance I would have accepted it.”

When given the opportunity to address the court, Caplin rose slowly to his feet, stared at the table and took a deep breath.

“I am very sorry,” he began, his voice raspy, barely above a whisper. “I haven’t dealt with … since it happened,” he said,

the sentence partly inaudible. He then paused, shook his head and sat back down.

Amy Boisvert, one of Brenda Warner’s nieces, was the first to give a victim impact statement.

“You will never fully understand how your actions affected my family. My feelings have gone from rage and resentment to forgiving you as a human being, not your actions,” Boisvert said.

“I don’t understand how you can live with yourself … for your actions that night.”

Boisvert later said she plans to attend “every day” of Barnaby’s trial, fulfilling a promise she made to her father, Carl Warner – before he died of cancer about three years ago.

Inga Flanders, another of Brenda Warner’s nieces, noted through tears the “irony that my family is here today.”

“Today is supposed to be about love and to share … with the ones we love. But instead, our families are here for something so evil … the taking of the lives of my Aunt Brenda and her life partner Charlene.”

The couple “will never have another Valentine’s Day, another Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthdays or anything. You took that away,” Flanders said, glancing at Caplin.

Members of her family “gave up on life … one by one,” she continued. “The anger inside consumed my father … he got divorced, our relationship became estranged.”

“We wondered how anyone could be so capable of doing something so horrific.”

Flanders said her family has “prayed for this day for many, many years,” and told Caplin that “even though I do not like you, I am happy that you have decided to take responsibility for your actions.”

“In order for my scars to heal, I forgive you.”

Leslie Warner, assisted by state victims advocate Joelle Donnelly Wiggin, made his way to the podium, paused, and took a deep breath.

“This is a special day, a very special day. Why, you ask? Because I can talk to David Caplin right here, and let him know I don’t hate you. I hate what you did,” Warner began.”

He told Caplin that he was “here to tell the court how low you really are, what a monster you

are … and what you’re made of.”

Warner said he will “never forget that day and year,” referring to the date of the murders. He predicted that when he finished speaking, “Mr. David Caplin, you will remember that day like it was yesterday.”

“You butchered my sister that night.”

Caplin, Warner continued, is “simply an empty shell with no moral fiber. You have no purpose in this life.”

“You stabbed her so many times, David, that they couldn’t even embalm her.”

Warner said the lives of his family members “spiraled downward” in the months and years after the murders. He sometimes overheard his grandchildren ask their mother, “‘what’s wrong with grandpa?'”

Several family members smiled through their tears when Warner recalled how his sister loved to watch movies, and would often cry and “ask me questions about the movie.”

“I’d tell her, Brenda, it’s just a movie,” he said.

“But on Oct. 2-3, there was a movie … she couldn’t ask me questions about. This movie was real.’

“I couldn’t give her any answers.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, or @Telegraph_DeanS.