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NH Supreme Court upholds murder conviction

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / December 21, 2011
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CONCORD, N.H.—The New Hampshire Supreme Court is upholding the murder conviction of a man who, in an unrelated case, was tried four times and eventually cleared 10 years ago in a Nashua nightclub shooting.

The court ruled Wednesday that 32-year-old Dickens Etienne of Manchester will continue serving a life sentence for shooting 25-year-old Larry Lemieux once behind the ear in January 2004 after a simmering dispute over female acquaintances.

The justices rejected Etienne's arguments that the trial judge wrongly instructed the jury on self-defense and that prosecutors withheld evidence that a key witness got favorable consideration in an unrelated drug case.

The justices concluded there was "overwhelming evidence" of Etienne's premeditation to kill Lemieux, including statements he made to several acquaintances.

Less than an hour before the killing, Etienne instructed a friend to meet him at Etienne's Manchester house and to bring a gun. When Lemieux stepped on the porch for a pre-arranged meeting with Etienne, Etienne stepped forward and shot him behind the right ear, killing him instantly, the ruling states. Lemieux was armed, but there was no bullet in the chamber of his gun.

Etienne then drove to the Boston area, threw his gun in a reservoir in Brighton and gave his soiled clothing to his sister in Boston, telling her she would be his alibi.

Chief Justice Linda Dalianis parted with the majority and held that the trial judge erred in his jury instruction on the use of deadly force.

The judge told jurors that for Etienne to prevail on his self-defense argument, the jury must conclude that the amount of force used was "necessary for self-defense or defense of others."

Dalianis said there is no language in the law requiring a "necessity factor" on the use of deadly force. She said the majority grafted onto the statute a limitation the legislature chose not to include. She said, however, that she agreed with the majority on the remaining arguments Etienne made in his quest for a new trial.

Etienne's lawyer, public defender Christopher Johnson, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2001, following two mistrials and a conviction that was thrown out by the state Supreme Court, Etienne in a fourth trial was cleared of shooting three people at a Nashua nightclub in 1997. He had been charged with attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault in relation to the shooting at an under-21 dance at the Bahama Beach Club.

He unsuccessfully sued the state for $10 million, claiming false imprisonment while awaiting trial on charges related to the nightclub shooting.

Etienne earlier this year was transferred to Connecticut's Northern Correctional Institution. He gained attention when he went on a hunger strike and wound up in a Connecticut hospital and in a Department of Correction complaint requesting a court order to force-feed him. He is now back in New Hampshire, incarcerated in the secure housing unit of the state prison in Concord.

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