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Telegraph file photo


Anthony Barnaby is led into Nashua District Court in early October, 1988.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barnaby walked free after three juries failed to convict him for 1988 murders

Anthony Barnaby walked out of the State Prison in July 1990, after prosecutors decided against trying him a fourth time for the murder of two lesbian roommates in Nashua.

His alleged accomplice, David Caplin, never stood trial, and both men returned to Canada, where they were recently arrested on warrants for the 1988 murders of Charlene Ranstrom and Brenda Warner.

Even then, there were those who predicted that Barnaby and Caplin would stand trial again some day.

More than two decades later, after further investigation by the state’s Cold Case squad, prosecutors have decided to try again to bring both men to trial.

Ranstrom, 48, and Warner, 32, were found stabbed to death in their second-floor apartment at 7 Mason St., by Ranstrom’s two sons, Joel and David, on Oct. 3, 1988, police said at the time.

Barnaby, then 21, who lived downstairs, was arrested and charged with the murders several days later. Barnaby allegedly confessed, telling detectives that he and a friend, Caplin, beat, tied up and stabbed the two women after a series of disputes, including a hatred for their lifestyle.

Barnaby later recanted his confession, saying he falsely confessed after being questioned for 17 hours, and was passed out drunk at the time of the murders.

Barnaby and Caplin grew up together on the Restigouche reservation in Quebec province, and they were both arrested in Canada, authorities announced Tuesday.

Barnaby was tried three times for the murders, and each time, jurors were unable to reach a verdict. Jurors told The Telegraph at the time that disagreements over the alleged confession were a major point of contention, and even those who believed that Barnaby was guilty were unable to agree on whether the murder was premeditated.

In that era, police questioned suspects at length without any record of the interview, and disputes over confessions were common. Years later, state courts established rules that said recorded statements can’t be used as evidence unless the entire interview is recorded.

Caplin, a friend who was living with Barnaby at the time of the murders, was arrested June 8, 1990, nearly two years after the murders and just days before Barnaby’s third trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Caplin never stood trial, however. Prosecutors dropped charges against him in 1991, after the state Supreme Court upheld a series of adverse rulings by the trial court, holding that evidence they had could not be used at trial, including pubic hairs that police suspected came from Caplin, found at the murder scene.

“The case against Caplin was a very circumstantial case,” then Assistant Attorney General Paul Maggiotto said at the time.

While forensics experts in 1990 could not link pubic hairs to an individual, DNA testing that became available several years later could make such identifications.

Detective Wayne MacDonald, who later retired as a deputy chief, testified that Barnaby changed his alibi and story repeatedly during questioning, but eventually signed a written confession admitting that he and Caplin had killed the women.

Barnaby told police he and Caplin had worn the socks over their hands to avoid leaving prints, and that they barged into the apartment and attacked the women armed with steak knives and a two-by-four. He told police he confessed because he felt badly for Ranstrom’s mentally disabled son.

Barnaby’s alleged confession included details that matched physical evidence found at the scene – blood stained socks, towels and steak knives – but none of that physical evidence could be linked directly to Barnaby by fingerprints or other means, a state criminologist testified during his third trial in June 1990.

A former neighbor testified that Barnaby had threatened the women repeatedly in the weeks before the murder and joked with her about killing them so he could move into their apartment.

The decision by prosecutors to drop the murder charges against Barnaby was a bitter disappointment to Nashua police, who had worked the case hard. Former Chief Clifton Largy (then deputy chief) told The Telegraph in 1990 that he felt the trial focused too much on police procedure.

“They (jurors) weren’t concerned with whether he did it or not. They were concerned with whether the police screwed up or not. I felt it was the state that was on trial,” Largy said.

Ranstrom’s son, Joel Ranstrom, could not be reached for comment Tuesday but spoke with The Telegraph in 1990, after Barnaby was released.

“It’s ridiculous. This guy confesses to two murders and now he’s out,” Ranstrom, then 26, said, adding later, “My mother’s been taken away. She’s in the grave, but this guy’s walking.”

“I think he’s going to be tried again some day,” Ranstrom said. “I think he’s going to go to trial, be convicted and go to jail.”

Ranstrom wasn’t the only one to think so.

Then Attorney General John Arnold (now a superior court judge) reminded the public at the time that there is no statute of limitations for murder and promised prosecutors would try the suspects again “should circumstances change.”

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at awolfe@nashuatelegraph.com.