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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    David Cates listens to people speak both in favor of and against reworking the state's death penalty law at the Statehouse in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    David Robbins, R-Nashua, finishes his remarks on HB147 at the Statehouse in Concord Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. Robbins' father Robert was murdered in Medford, MA in 1980.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Brother Paul Crawford, director of public policy for the Diocese of Manchester, testifies against HB147 at the Statehouse in Concord Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    New Hamspshire House Speaker William O'Brien presents background on HB147 on the floor of Representatives Hall at the Statehouse in Concord Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    David Cates reads a statement supporting house bill 147 in Representatives Hall in the State House in Concord Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2011.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Expand death penalty, Cates says

CONCORD – David Cates says the memory of his slain wife, Kimberly, and injured daughter, Jaimie, moved him to endorse expanding the death penalty so that it applies to home invasions like the one at his home on Oct. 4, 2009.

Cates brought a crowd in Representatives Hall to hushed silence Tuesday morning as he shared the horrifying pictures that the tragedy burned into his mind. At the time of the killing by four youths who chose the home largely at random, Cates was out of state on business.

“Close your eyes for a moment and imagine just how scared they were when dozens of stabs and slashes were delivered with razor sharp knives to their helpless bodies,” Cates told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “I live with this image every day of my life.”

David Cates has spoken little in public outside his testimony at the murder trial of Steven Spader last fall. Spader was convicted of helping to kill Kimberly Cates and injuring Jaimie, who was 11 at the time.

Two accomplices have pleaded guilty and the other, Christopher Gribble, is slated to stand trial on murder charges in March. Even if the bill becomes law before Gribble’s trial, however, it would not affect his sentence. It would only come into play for crimes committed after it becomes law.

Cates said he is not speaking out now to settle a score but to bring justice to future victims.

“I am not looking for vengeance. This bill will not affect the sentencing in our case. I am looking for justice for the next family that has to deal with this horrific tragedy,” said Cates, who still lives with Jaimie in the Mont Vernon home where the murder took place.

The committee was considering a bill (HB 147) written by House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, that would add home invasion murders to the narrowly drawn number of premeditated killings covered under New Hampshire’s capital murder law, a penalty that was last carried out in 1939.

But state Rep. David Robbins, R-Nashua, shared a different perspective, 30 years after he had to clean bits of his father’s brain off the wall of their Medford, Mass., home. A 45-year-old homeless man used a claw hammer to bludgeon to death Robert Robbins, a professor at nearby Tufts University.

Robbins said that at first he thirsted for the killer’s death but came to feel differently, and he recently endorsed granting parole to the murderer, now 75 years old.

“I let go of my fear and my anguish. By doing so, I freed myself by celebrating dad’s life rather than suffer every day his death,” Robbins said. “I am not morally opposed to the death penalty; we have the right to legally seek another person death. I am just not convinced the death penalty solves or resolves anything.”

Gov. John Lynch has endorsed the bill’s concept and in a letter urged the House committee to work on perfecting language.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said the attorney general’s office takes no position on the bill, which he estimates would add another one to three potential death penalty cases a year in New Hampshire.

Delker said as written, it would be overly broad and could even apply if one burglar killed another arguing over the booty.

Numerous religious leaders came to oppose the bill on moral grounds, including Brother Paul Crawford, director of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, who read an opposition letter from Bishop John McCormack.

“Even with the horrendous crimes, I have to stand and say it is important to respect and honor the dignity of an individual person,” Crawford said. “To us, it is very important to speak against this. The state should not condone execution for any crime.”

The Rev. Gordon Crouch with the First Congregational Church in Hopkinton said he spoke for 200 religious leaders opposing the bill.

“The use of the death penalty is a gravely unjust method of protecting society,” Crouch said.

John Quinlan, former chairman of the Mont Vernon Board of Selectmen, said residents throughout the town were dumbstruck at learning prosecutors could not ask for the death penalty for the Kimberly Cates killing.

“Sometimes, some things, some acts are so heinous, so inexcusable with absolutely no motivation, they have to be dealt with squarely, purposely and hopefully swiftly,” Quinlan added. “Without that, there is no true justice.”

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or