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Teen convicted killer in NH wants reduced sentence

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / September 11, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—A man convicted of hacking a woman to death with a machete and maiming her daughter during a home invasion when he was 17 is seeking to have his sentence reduced in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Lawyers for Steven Spader, in their motion for a new sentencing hearing, cite the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June that mandatory sentences of life without parole for those under 18 when a crime was committed amount to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Constitution. The court ruled that judges should have discretion to consider whether a juvenile's "lessened culpability and greater capacity for change" might warrant a lesser sentence.

Spader was convicted in November 2010 of slashing to death 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and maiming her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie Cates, in their Mont Vernon home a year earlier, when he was a month shy of his 18th birthday.

A judge sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence on a murder conviction and a total of 76 years in prison on his convictions for attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit burglary and witness tampering.

State prosecutors have agreed with a motion by Spader's appellate lawyer to put on hold his state Supreme Court appeal and send his case back to the Superior Court for a new sentencing hearing.

Spader's lawyers, in a motion filed last week, argued that the judge in a new sentencing hearing "must consider evidence of Spader's immaturity, impulsiveness and his potential for rehabilitation."

Attorneys Jonathan Cohen and Andrew Winters also argued that the 76 years to which Spader was sentenced on the other convictions "is tantamount to a consecutive life sentence without parole, as it is unlikely Spader would live to the age of 93 in prison and would never have a chance to be paroled." They said those sentences should be reconsidered as well to be sure the mandatory life sentence did not influence the judge's decision to impose them.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said no hearing on the motion has been scheduled. He said the New Hampshire Supreme Court has not remanded the case back to the Superior Court, which has to happen first.

Several other high-profile convicted killers in New Hampshire may seek to have their sentences reduced, citing the same U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The public defender's office has filed requests to be appointed counsel to represent three killers serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were under age 18.

Public defender Richard Guerriero last month asked a court to appoint him to again represent Robert Tulloch, one of two Vermont teenagers convicted of killing Dartmouth professors Half and Suzanne Zantop in 2001, when he was 17. Guerriero, whose appointment as Tulloch's attorney expired when Tulloch pleaded guilty in 2002, says Tulloch contacted him for advice on whether he might be entitled to relief under the Supreme Court ruling.

Requests similar to those in the Tulloch case have been filed on behalf of Robert Dingman, convicted of killing his parents in their Rochester home in 1996, and Eduardo Lopez Jr., convicted of shooting a man to death during a robbery in Nashua in 1991. Dingman and Lopez were 17 when the killings occurred.

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