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Christopher Gribble enters the courtroom for a hearing Monday, Jan. 10, 2011.
Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gribble in court to prep for trial

NASHUA – Christopher Gribble entered shackled and smiling Friday morning as he made his final court appearance before jury selection begins for his trial in the 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion and murder.

Gribble, 21, of Brookline, has admitted to attacking Kimberly Cates and her then 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie Cates, in their Mont Vernon home on Oct. 4, 2009, but pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Feb. 28, and the trial will start once 16 jurors are seated. During a final trial management conference Friday, lawyers made their final arguments regarding jury instructions for the close of the case, and Judge Gillian Abramson said she would issue an order Monday.

The hearing was brief, but Gribble appeared in good spirits, smiling as he spoke quietly beforehand with his lawyers. He wore a blue dress shirt, khakis and steel shackles on his legs and wrists, but bailiffs freed his hands before the hearing began.

Lawyers for both sides also met in chambers with Abramson to hash out the extent to which Gribble’s lawyers must notify prosecutors in advance about any experts who may testify about Gribble’s mental state, and what they would say.

Typically, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond reasonable doubt,” but because Gribble has admitted to helping Steven Spader hack and stab Cates to death and to attacking her daughter, his trial will focus more on his mental state.

Gribble’s lawyers will have the burden to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that his actions were a result of insanity, unlike a standard criminal trial, in which prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Spader, also of Brookline, was convicted last year on murder and other charges, and is serving life in state prison without hope of parole. Three other young men, from Amherst and Hollis, also admitted their roles in the home invasion and agreed to testify against Spader and Gribble.

The insanity defense is rare in criminal cases, even in New Hampshire, which uses a broader standard than other states. New Hampshire was the first state to develop and is now the only state to still apply the “Durham” standard, which holds that a person can’t be convicted of criminal acts that are “the product of a mental disease or defect.”

Prosecutors have urged Abramson to use the standard, model jury instructions, while Gribble’s lawyers argue the instructions should be updated to reflect more recent court rulings. For instance, they argue, the judge should talk about mental illness and disease, not “defect.”

Although jurors are generally told not to speculate about sentencing in criminal trials, jurors in an insanity case are instructed about the committal process.

Gribble faces life in prison without hope of parole if convicted of Cates’ murder, and found sane. He also is charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and burglary, and witness tampering.

If jurors find that his actions were the result of insanity, Gribble faces indefinite commitment to the secure psychiatric unit of the state prison, with review hearings every five years, and he couldn’t be released until a judge declares that he’s no longer dangerous.

Copies of the proposed jury instructions and other motions and rulings filed in Gribble’s trial are available on the state court’s website at www.courts.state.nh.us/caseinfo/pdf/mtvernon/gribble/index.htm.

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or awolfe@nashuatelegraph.com.