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N.H. teen’s murder trial begins

Mother’s throat cut, and girl left to die, court told; defense says proof lacking

Steven Spader is charged with first-degree murder. Steven Spader is charged with first-degree murder.
By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / October 27, 2010

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NASHUA — Sitting motionless in a dark-blue blazer, his fingertips lightly pressed together, 18-year-old Steven Spader stared unblinking at a prosecutor who alleged yesterday that he murdered a 42-year-old nurse and left her daughter for dead in their secluded New Hampshire home.

“Who would have the heart to hack a helpless, defenseless mother and child in their bed and then laugh and boast about it?’’ prosecutor Peter Hinckley asked the jury in a steadily rising voice.

“Him,’’ Hinckley said, pointing at Spader. “He tried to destroy a family. It’s what he planned and plotted and agreed to do.’’

Spader, of Brookline, N.H., is the first defendant to face trial in the October 2009 murder of Kimberly Cates and the savage, predawn assault on her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie. Spader and three other teenagers, authorities said, randomly chose a home in tiny Mont Vernon to kill and rob whoever lived inside.

“Kim and Jaimie’s screams didn’t stop them,’’ Hinckley said. “Their cries, their begs, their pleas didn’t stop them, because he was merciless.’’

After the killing, Hinckley said, Spader and others charged in the case joked about an attack that had been planned “for fun, for kicks.’’

Kimberly Cates was hacked and stabbed more than 30 times, Hinckley said. Jaimie, who played dead until the attackers left, was covered in blood when she called 911 despite a shattered jaw, punctured lung, broken arm, and a foot that had been sliced to pieces, the prosecutor said.

Kimberly’s husband, David, had been in Baltimore on business at the time of the attack. Yesterday, he sat stoically in the front row of the spectator gallery, bending forward in emotion only when the prosecutor replayed Jaimie’s 911 call to police.

“Kimberly and Jaimie fought hard for their lives, but they were no match for the defendant,’’ Hinckley said. “Flesh and bone against a knife and a machete, wielded by ruthless and determined killers.’’

Defense attorney Andrew Winters asked the 16 jurors to put aside their revulsion at the crime and concentrate solely on the evidence produced by the prosecution. “You will find that the state has not met its burden of proof,’’ Winters said.

Two others charged in the case, including one who said he would provide an alibi, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges. They have agreed to testify against Spader and Christopher Gribble, 21, also of Brookline.

A fifth defendant, who prosecutors say accompanied Spader and Gribble to the home, has also agreed to testify against the pair and is scheduled to face trial in June on charges that include conspiracy to commit murder.

Despite that cooperation with prosecutors, Winters told the jury, “you will conclude that it just doesn’t add up.’’

No blood from the victims has been found on the clothing of the defendants, Winters said. In addition, he said, no blood from inside the home has been definitively linked to the suspects.

The three potential witnesses “cut a deal with the prosecution to reduce many years off their prison sentence in exchange for shifting the blame away from themselves and on to Steve Spader,’’ Winters said.

The prosecution, however, painted Spader as the ringleader of a small group of teenagers who he has dubbed the Disciples of Destruction. About 4 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2009, Hinckley said, Spader led members of that group — Gribble; Quinn Glover, then 17, of Amherst and William Marks, then 18, also of Amherst — to the dark, dirt road on the outskirts of Mont Vernon. Spader carried a machete, Hinckley said, and each of the others carried a knife.

Gribble cut away side panels from an air conditioning unit to gain entry to the Cateses’ basement. After the four entered the darkened home, where mother and daughter slept separately in the master bedroom, Spader and Gribble made their way along a hallway, aided by the light from an iPod that had been taken from Jaimie’s room, prosecutors said.

Kimberly woke up, and the attack by Spader and Gribble began, prosecutors said.

“Kimberly and Jaimie didn’t have time to try to escape and didn’t have time to try to call for help,’’ Hinckley said. “They didn’t have time to try to protect themselves.’’

Spader, he added, “never gave them a chance.’’

Jaimie lay crumpled and bleeding against a wall, Hinckley said, where Spader “hacked at her one last time.’’

“But Jaimie didn’t move, didn’t make a sound, and he thought for sure she was dead,’’ the prosecutor said.

Kimberly still struggled for life, Hinckley said, “and that’s when Gribble then hastened to the inevitable. He took that knife and cut open Kimberly’s throat. And Kimberly Cates died, within arm’s reach of her daughter. She died not knowing whether her only child was alive or dead.’’

After the crime, Hinckley said, the four teenagers changed their clothes, which were dumped in the Nashua River; cleaned the weapons with chemicals; bought energy drinks; and recapped the deed. The small amount of jewelry that they stole from the home was pawned for $130, prosecutors said.

“They were excited,’’ Hinckley said. “The laughing, the boasting, the joking started almost immediately.’’

That excitement, however, was tinged with regret when the group learned through news reports that Jaimie had not died, prosecutors said.

Police were led to the group almost immediately, following a tip they received from friends who had been told of the crime. Authorities were led to the discarded clothing by Autumn Savoy, then 19, of Hollis, who had agreed to provide the alibi. The weapons believed to have been used in the crime were discovered behind Gribble’s home.

Testimony is scheduled to resume this morning.

MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.

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