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Man charged with killing kin tries to have evidence barred

Alleged letter of confession was found in home

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / September 24, 2011

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WOBURN - The Winchester man accused of killing his wife, two young children, and mother-in-law last year is attempting to bar some evidence from trial, contending that it was obtained before a warrant was secured.

In seeking to “suppress evidence obtained though a warrantless search,’’ the attorney for defendant Thomas Mortimer IV drew grisly testimony yesterday from police and firefighters who described a blood-soaked crime scene inside 2 Windsong Lane on June 16, 2010.

Attorney Denise Regan filed two motions in Woburn Superior Court, the other to suppress evidence “beyond the scope of the search warrant.’’

It is unclear which pieces of evidence Regan is seeking to have expunged, but during their search of the two-story yellow colonial, authorities found a letter in which Mortimer allegedly confessed to the brutal killings.

Mortimer is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the slaying of his mother-in-law, Ragna Ellen Stone, 64; his wife, Laura Stone Mortimer, 41; and his children, Charlotte Mortimer, 2, and Thomas “Finn’’ Mortimer V, who was 4.

The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to continue Monday. Judge Leila R. Kern will make a decision on whether to suppress the evidence after all the witnesses are heard.

During yesterday’s hearing, Winchester police testified that they made an initial search of the house with their guns drawn, followed by another entry to retrieve a family dog that apparently had been locked in an upstairs bedroom for at least two days. State troopers then arrived and also performed a sweep. The sweeps were made prior to authorities obtaining a search warrant, but according to the law enforcement official connected to the case, they were not to seek evidence but to secure the house.

Debra Stone-Sochat - who lost her mother, sister, niece, and nephew - cried during some of the more graphic recounting of the crime scene, especially when Winchester patrolman Claude P. Austin testified about discovering Charlotte’s body in her crib.

In her testimony yesterday, Stone-Sochat said she tried numerous times over two days to contact her mother and sister, but was unsuccessful. On the morning of June 15, she called her sister’s cellphone, she said, and Mortimer answered.

“It was very unusual he would answer the phone,’’ she said. “He said about my sister, ‘She’s upstairs. She’s busy. She’ll have to call you back. It will be a while before she calls you back.’ ’’

Later that night, Stone-Sochat prepared her mother’s favorite dinner, expecting her arrival, but she never showed up.

The next morning, Stone-Sochat drove to her mother’s house and noticed that trash barrels were still on the curb a day after pickup. She peered through the windows and saw blood on a light switch, on the walls, and on the floor leading up the stairs.

Unable to get into the house, she left and returned with neighbor Daniel Murphy, who attempted to kick in a door but stopped because he feared he would trip the house alarm. He called the Winchester Police Department and was told to wait for firefighters to arrive and perform a well-being check.

Winchester Fire Lieutenant Steven B. Osborne Jr. said the call for a well-being check at 2 Windsong Lane came in at 11:15 a.m. He was the first person to enter the home, and he was followed by two other firefighters.

“After opening the door I shouted, ‘Hello, hello, Fire Department,’ and continued walking straight ahead, and I turned to the left at a hallway. I saw a person lying on the floor.’’

Sitting on the witness stand yesterday, Osborne, wearing his dark-blue firefighter’s dress uniform, pointed to a large diagram of the house floor plans, then to the spot where he saw the body.

“I walked to the body to see if there were any signs of life, and then I saw another body, covered with something, a cloth or a blanket,’’ he said. “I moved the blanket back, it was a child. The child had a large wound to the neck. I immediately realized it was a crime scene and backed out of the building.’’

Winchester patrolman Austin testified that the lights were on in the house when he arrived. He saw two bodies, then a trail of blood leading into a foyer and small footprints in blood there. He followed drops of blood into the living room, where he saw two legs underneath a rug. As Austin followed the trail upstairs, he called his station to report a third body.

Austin said he was drawn to a room where a dog was barking and a television was on. He peeked into the room, being careful to not let the dog out. The dog had clawed away carpet and scratched the door. Austin closed the door and continued down a hallway with another officer. He went into what appeared to be the master bedroom and saw blood droplets on the bed. In the adjacent bedroom, the other officer called out, “We have another body.’’

Mortimer allegedly wrote in the letter that after he and his wife quarreled over a bounced $2,499 check he sent to the IRS, he exploded into a homicidal rage. In the confession, which is part of court records, he allegedly blamed himself for “bottling up my anger . . . until one murderous night.’’

“What I have done is extremely selfish and cowardly,’’ the former sales executive allegedly wrote. He confessed to cutting his children’s throats and stabbing his wife and mother-in-law. “I took the easy way out. . . . I am ashamed, frightened, relieved, surprised that I murdered my family, disgusted with myself.’’

He allegedly wrote that he believed his son and daughter were better off dead than they would have been as children of a divorced couple.

“Looking forward to peace but already missing terribly Finn and Charlotte,’’ he wrote, using his son’s nickname. “That will be my ‘hell.’ ’’

“I expecially [sic] sorry to Finn that he had to witness these horrid acts,’’ Mortimer wrote in a paragraph that was unsealed yesterday by the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

“It was not supposed to be this way.’’

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.