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Convict seeks reduced sentence in N.H. machete slaying

Steven Spader was convicted of first-degree murder in the machete slaying of Kimberly Cates. He was automatically sentenced to life without parole, a sentence now under review following a June Supreme Court ruling on youthful offenders.

JIM COLE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Steven Spader was convicted of first-degree murder in the machete slaying of Kimberly Cates. He was automatically sentenced to life without parole, a sentence now under review following a June Supreme Court ruling on youthful offenders.

The man convicted in the 2009 machete slaying of a New Hampshire nurse is seeking to have his sentence reduced after a US Supreme Court decision outlawed mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.

In state court Wednesday, prosecutors and a lawyer for Steven Spader, who was a month away from his 18th birthday at the time of the slaying, hashed out details for a hearing, likely to be held in January, when a judge is expected to hear evidence and decide whether to alter Spader’s sentence.

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Under the Supreme Court’s ruling issued in June, the judge must consider whether “mitigating qualities of youth” should affect Spader’s sentence.

In November 2010, Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson imposed a mandatory life sentence on Spader, telling him: “I could go on for days and days and days about the depth of your depravity. It is sufficient to say that you belong in a cage for the rest of your pointless life.”

Abramson will preside at the resentencing hearing.

She could choose to impose a life sentence again, said ­Jeffery A. Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general, or she could reduce Spader’s sentence. She will also reconsider the 76 years she tacked onto the life sentence for Spader’s other felony convictions, including ­attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit burglary, and witness tampering.

Abramson imposed the maximum sentence for each conviction after hearing a victim impact statement from ­David Cates, Kimberly Cates’s husband.

Spader’s lawyer did not ­return a call seeking comment.

Spader was one of five men convicted in the home invasion that ended the life of 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and maimed her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie.

Christopher Gribble, who stabbed Jaimie multiple times and plunged the knife into her mother’s throat to make certain she was dead, also received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. But he was over 18 at the time of the attack and is not eligible to pursue re­sentencing, Strelzin said.

John Esposito, a selectman in Mont Vernon, said Spader’s resentencing was painful for the town, but necessary.

“What they did is horrible, and I know that at the time he was sentenced, it was a just sentence,” Esposito said. “But you have to go with the law of the land. It’s not what we like, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled in June that offenders younger than 18 have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform” and that judges should be able to consider the “mitigating qualities of youth” in sentencing.

The decision did not prohibit life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but it prohibits states from making them automatic.

The ruling has thrown into question the sentences of at least 60 Massachusetts prisoners who over the past four ­decades were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in jail. ­Nationally, about 2,500 prisoners are serving life sentences without parole for murders committed before turning 18.

In New Hampshire, four other defendants are exploring whether to challenge their sentences, Strelzin said.

One of those is Robert Tulloch, who was 17 when he and another Vermont teen stabbed to death Dartmouth professors Half and Suzanne Zantop in 2001. Tulloch’s lawyer did not return a phone call on Wednesday.

It is not clear whether the high court’s ruling applies to their cases, because the court did not specify whether the ruling was retroactive. Spader’s case is different because he had an appeal pending at the time of the ruling, Strelzin said.

Sarah Schweitzer
can be reached at
sschweitzer@globe.com.
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