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  • Gribble is one of four men implicated in the attack on Kimberly and Jaimie Cates of Mont Vernon in October of 2009.
  • Christopher Gribble watches New Hampshire State Police Sargeant John Encarnacao walk to the witness stand Monday, Dec. 6, 2010 to testify in a hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, New Hampshire.(AP Photo/Don Himsel)
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gribble enters insanity plea

NASHUA – Christopher Gribble told investigators he was abused and had recently punched his father in the face before matter-of-factly telling them how he helped brutally murder Kimberly Cates and attack her young daughter last fall, according to court testimony Monday.

Gribble, 21, of Brookline, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the Oct. 4, 2009, home invasion, murder and attack during an hourlong hearing Monday morning. Later, state police Sgt. John Encarnacao testified about his interview with Gribble, during which he said he had been physically and mentally abused by his mother and the recent fight with his father.

In the morning hearing, Gribble admitted to breaking into 4 Trow Road, entering the bedroom and repeatedly stabbing then 11-year-old Jaimie Cates when she tried to jump off the bed and landed in his arms. After he threw her into a wall, Steven Spader hacked at Jaimie with a machete and kicked her, according to police, and Gribble slashed Kimberly Cates’ throat.

Gribble pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and burglary, and witness tampering, the same charges Spader was convicted of last month.

Spader is serving life in prison without parole, plus another 76 years to life in prison.

Gribble has essentially forfeited his right to a criminal trial and now must prove to a jury that he was insane at the time of the attack and not responsible for his actions. If a jury agrees, Judge Gillian Abramson would then have to determine if he is still dangerous. If she decides he is no longer a danger, Gribble would be released.

If she decides he is dangerous, he would be committed to a psychiatric unit in state prison and be entitled to another hearing every five years to determine whether he still presents a danger, Abramson said.

If a jury declares that he was sane at the time of the murder, he would be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the first-degree murder charge.

Gribble spoke extensively to Abramson during the hearing Monday. He wore a wrinkled white dress shirt and belt-less khakis when he told Abramson he understood the charges against him, what the state would have to prove if he pleaded not guilty, what rights he was giving up and what he will have to prove at the insanity trial.

Gribble’s pleas mean the burden of proof has shifted from state prosecutors to the defense. Gribble told Abramson that he is not taking any psychiatric medication or receiving any treatment. He has been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, he said, and took Prozac until 2007.

During a second hearing Monday afternoon, Gribble’s attorneys, public defenders Donna Brown and Matthew Hill, tried to get Gribble’s confession to police tossed, arguing the statements were not voluntary and violated his Miranda rights.

Encarnacao testified for over an hour about his contact with Gribble, first outside Spader’s home on the day of the murder, and then during six hours of interviews at the old state police barracks in Milford.

Encarnacao said Gribble was very talkative and cooperative, allowed police to tow and search his car and agreed to go to the barracks for questioning. He repeatedly denied being involved in the murder and eventually exercised his right to remain silent. Later, he indicated he wanted to talk to Encarnacao again and asked about the difference between first- and second-degree murder and whether Encarancao thought the murder was a death penalty case.

He also told police his mother abused him when he was younger by pinching him repeatedly but was more emotionally abusive. He said his father traveled a lot and was a wimp. He said they had gotten into a physical altercation recently and he had punched his father in the face, Encarnacao said. Later, Gribble told Encarnacao he wanted to tell police everything.

“‘You know what, why don’t you go get your recorder,’” he said, according to Encarnacao. “His words were ‘I’ll tell you everything.’”

The actual interviews were submitted to Abramson in support of the state’s motion objecting to the suppression and are still sealed.

Encarnacao said Gribble talked “matter-of-factly” about what had happened inside the house and later led police to a wooded area in Brookline where they found the machete and knife used in the attack.

“It was really just Chris laying out what happened,” Encarnacao said. “It seemed to be that he totally let his guard down.”

Hill argued that police manipulated Gribble by using analogies about him treading water in the middle of a big lake and telling him they were trying to throw him a lifeline, implying that they were trying to help him. Hill also said Encarnacao subtly tricked Gribble into re-starting the interview by keeping him in the room and staying nearby and then talking with him about other things until Gribble said he wanted to confess.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said it was clear any methods police used to question Gribble – appealing to his conscience, challenging him and accusing him of lying – were ineffective because during the first portions of the questioning Gribble stood up to them, maintained his innocence and accused police of trying to mess with him by playing good cop/bad cop.

“This defendant was a willing and incessant talker,” Hinckley said.

Abramson said she would issue a ruling on the motion to suppress soon. Gribble’s trial, now an insanity trial, is scheduled for February. He has asked Abramson to move the trial out of Hillsborough County in order to find an unbiased jury. He argues that publicity around Spader’s trial will make it even more difficult for him to get a fair trial.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said because of Gribble’s plea, the entire structure of the trial is flipped on its head. The defense now has the burden of proof and will give its opening statement first and closing argument last.

Gribble’s burden is to prove he was insane by clear and convincing evidence, which is a burden higher than showing the “preponderance of evidence” but not as high as beyond a reasonable doubt, Strelzin said.

Hill declined to comment on why the defense wants to suppress Gribble’s confession, given that he has admitted to the actual murder. He also declined to say what mental defect Gribble will try to convince the jury should negate his responsibility.

Gribble stared at Strelzin with little expression while Strelzin read the offer of proof against Gribble during the morning hearing. He had a similar look when the court clerk read the formal charges against him and asked for his plea during the first hearing. He talked and laughed softly with his attorneys before the start of the afternoon hearing.

Strelzin described a list of witnesses and evidence the state would have presented against Gribble that largely mirrored Spader’s October trial, including testimony from three co-conspirators – Quinn Glover, William Marks and Autumn Savoy – and forensic evidence including knife and wound analysis and blood.

Gribble’s hands and feet were shackled until Brown asked Abramson before the first hearing began to allow a sheriff to take off the handcuffs so Gribble could write notes to his attorney. Brown said she worried anything he said aloud would be picked up by a television microphone near the defense table and end up on the 6 o’clock news.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com.