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Chilling testimony in N.H. murder trial

Defendant says he thought about killing his mother

Christopher Gribble, on trial in Nashua for the home-invasion murder of Kimberly Cates, accused his mother of abusing him. Christopher Gribble, on trial in Nashua for the home-invasion murder of Kimberly Cates, accused his mother of abusing him. (Don Himsl/ Associated Press/ Pool)
Associated Press / March 15, 2011

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NASHUA — The defendant in a deadly New Hampshire home invasion and machete attack testified yesterday that he fantasized about torturing and killing his mother from age 14 on because she abused him.

Christopher Gribble, 21, surprised courtroom observers by taking the witness stand on the heels of his mother’s testimony. He told jurors he was agitated because his mother, Tamara Gribble, had lied when she denied abusing him.

Christopher Gribble has admitted stabbing Kimberly Cates to death and trying to kill her daughter Jaimie, then 11, in their Mont Vernon home in October 2009. He is trying to persuade the jury that he is not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Two defense experts testified yesterday that he had antisocial personality traits but was not insane.

Gribble said he fantasized about taking his mother into the woods and cutting off little pieces of her “bit by bit, listening to her scream.’’ He also said he thought about pouring boiling water “over sensitive parts of her,’’ bending her limbs out of joint and sprinkling her with sugar so the crows would come and pluck at her.

“Hey, if I’m going to kill her, why not make her pay?’’ he said with a shrug.

Tamara Gribble testified that she spanked her son with a wooden spoon one time when he was 5 and wet himself. She said she hit him hard enough to break the spoon and was “devastated’’ afterward by her rage. She kept the broken spoon in her bureau as a reminder of her regret, she testified.

She denied other things her son had told mental health counselors, including that he was forced to vacuum the house at age 6.

She wept when she testified about the spanking and again when prosecutor Jeffery Strelzin asked about the attacks and whether she now knows where Gribble was the night of Oct. 3-4, 2009. “Yes, I do,’’ she sobbed. “I’m sorry.’’

She testified that he came home about 11 a.m. Oct. 4, just hours after the predawn attacks, and ate breakfast with her at the table. After his arrest, she thought the police had made a mistake.

“I said he couldn’t be this calm and normal,’’ she testified. “I couldn’t believe anyone could take a human life and not be distressed to their core.’’

Christopher Gribble said that, as a child and young teen, his mother regularly pinned him to the couch and told him not to make any noise while she popped acne and other sores on his back and legs and pulled hairs from his head. “If I cried, I got smacked,’’ he said. “She called it the owie-check.’’

Gribble’s two-hour testimony, which resumes today, was at times rambling and contradictory.

Prosecutors say that Steven Spader, who was convicted of first-degree murder in November, wielded a machete and that Gribble used a knife in the attacks on the mother and daughter.

Prosecutor Peter Hinckley asked the defense psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Tallarico, whether she thought Gribble appeared to be “crazy or insane.’’ She said he did not.

Tallarico and clinical psychologist Mark Gladsen interviewed Gribble in summer 2007. Gribble’s parents had taken him for a mental health evaluation after getting complaints from two women that he had touched them inappropriately.

Tallarico testified yesterday that Gribble was not delusional and exhibited no psychotic symptoms. She and Gladsen testified that he had some antisocial personality traits, but they could not diagnose him as psychotic in 2007 because of his age and the lack of any history of crimes or unusual behavior.

Gladsen said he could offer no opinion on Gribble’s mental state in October 2009.