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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel Christopher Gribble arrives for a change of venue hearing in Hillsbrorough County Superior Court in Nashua, New Hampshire Monday, Dec. 20, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Telegraph managing editor Phil Kincade testified Monday, Dec. 20, 2010 during a hearing for Christopher Gribble in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel Christopher Gribble sits with his attorneys in Hillsbrorough County Superior Court in Nashua, New Hampshire Monday, Dec. 20, 2010.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sides dispute media effect on 2nd trial

NASHUA – Christopher Gribble was in court Monday while his lawyers wrangled with state prosecutors over whether his insanity trial should be moved out of Hillsborough County.

Gribble’s lawyers say the intense media attention and increased reader interest in Steven Spader’s murder trial should push their client’s insanity trial elsewhere in the state.

At a hearing at Hillsborough County Superior Court, public defender Donna Brown said data she subpoenaed from The Telegraph, the New Hampshire Union Leader and WMUR television shows that too many people in the county were exposed to details of the case through Spader’s trial, not to mention the prosecutors’ arguments about the case.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said the data from the newspapers and television station isn’t precise enough to determine who was reading or watching stories about the Spader trial. The coverage was also factual and wasn’t inflammatory enough to warrant moving Gribble’s trial, he said.

Philip Kincade, The Telegraph’s managing editor for online content, testified that there were increased single copy sales and visits to the paper’s website during the trial compared to the week before and after the three-week ordeal.

He also testified about the live feed of Spader’s trial the paper streamed on its website and how many hours visitors spent watching the video – either live or the archived version.

Kincade told Strelzin he can tell where many of the people who visited the site are from but cannot tell who is reading individual stories based on where they live.

Brown said the totality of the data gathered from the newspapers and television station show the intense interest the Spader trial created in the region and that it would not be fair for Gribble’s jury to be chosen from the same pool of potential jurors so close to Spader’s trial.

“This is a very unique situation, and it calls for this very unique remedy,” Brown said.

The motion to change Gribble’s trial venue lists a number of developments during the Spader trial that would be damaging to Gribble’s chances, including poems Spader wrote in jail about the crime, that several media outlets broadcast a statement Spader made to his lawyers asking them, “you think the jury will sing happy birthday to me?”; evidence about the Disciples of Destruction, a gang Spader wanted to form; and a number of witness statements about Gribble talking about experiencing what it’s like to kill someone.

Gribble’s name was mentioned frequently during Spader’s trial in October and November, including testimony that he stabbed Kimberly Cates and Jaimie Cates multiple times on Oct. 4, 2009, in Mont Vernon and ultimately slit Kimberly Cates’ throat. Several witnesses testified that Gribble laughed and bragged about the murder afterward.

Earlier this month, Gribble admitted to the crimes but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity; he will have a trial next year to determine his mental state at the time of the home invasion murder.

Gribble, 20, of Brookline, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and burglary, and witness tampering. Spader was convicted of the same charges Nov. 9 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Strelzin said it’s not clear that the spikes in The Telegraph’s reader and viewer data are all attributable to the Spader case since other stories, including local and national elections, the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal and other murders, compete for readers’ attention every day.

Further, Strelzin said the trial date was agreed upon months ago and the defense timed Gribble’s admission to the crimes and his not guilty by reason of insanity plea knowing the February trial was approaching. They effectively waived the right to argue the trials were too close together when they agreed to the trial schedule, he said.

“They timed when that would happen,” Strelzin said.

Brown told Judge Gillian Abramson that she simply didn’t anticipate the level of media coverage the Spader trial would generate.

Abramson said she wouldn’t issue an order on the change of venue motion until January.

Late last week, lawyers agreed to move the trial from Feb. 9 to Feb. 28, according to a decision posted on the court’s website Friday.

Jury selection will be held Feb. 28-March 4 and March 7. Hearings on several other motions will be held in January and early February, according to the motion.

Brown and her co-counsel, public defender Matthew Hill, have filed motions to limit the prosecutors to showing photos of Kimberly and Jaimie Cates’ injuries but not before the attack. They’ve also asked Abramson to bar prosecutors from glaring at Gribble as they stared at Spader, and to avoid using words such as “horror,” “slaughter” and “killer.”

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