Nathan Carman, the Vermont man at the center of separate probes into the murder of his wealthy grandfather and disappearance of his mother at sea, scored a legal victory when a New Hampshire judge tossed a lawsuit that his aunts had filed against him.
The aunts had filed the suit alleging that Carman, 25, killed his grandfather, the developer John Chakalos, in 2013, making him ineligible to collect funds from Chakalos’s $44 million estate.
Carman has adamantly denied killing his grandfather.
Judge David D. King of the Sixth Circuit Court Probate Division on Thursday threw out the lawsuit, ruling New Hampshire lacks jurisdiction over the matter because Chakalos lived in Connecticut at the time of his death. Chakalos was found shot to death in his Windsor, Conn., home in 2013, but the aunts contend Chakalos maintained property and other ties to New Hampshire.
“The Court . . . determines that John Chakalos was domiciled in Connecticut, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the [aunts’] Amended Petition,” King wrote in his 40-page ruling. “Accordingly, it is DISMISSED.”
That was welcome news to Carman, who reiterated his innocence in a statement released by his lawyers.
“I am pleased by the dismissal of the case on grounds of residency, because the Court got the facts right,” Carman said. “In all my statements to the Court and under oath, I told the whole truth. I believe my decision to take the high road in the firm belief that the facts would ultimately prevail contrasted favorably against the tactics employed by my aunts, helping to lead to the outcome of the case being dismissed that we see in the Court’s order today.”
The aunts have until May 19 to file a motion for reconsideration with King and until June 8 to file an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court, according to the ruling.
King wrote in his ruling that the evidence showed Chakalos took steps to make it appear that he lived in New Hampshire to avoid the tax burden in Connecticut.
“Although the Court previously concluded that the [aunts] had made a prima facie showing that [Chakalos] was an inhabitant of New Hampshire, based upon the new evidence presented, it finds that [Carman] has successfully rebutted that showing by demonstrating that John Chakalos was a savvy businessman who hated paying taxes and only intended to create the appearance, for tax purposes, that he was domiciled in New Hampshire,” King wrote.
In a statement Friday morning, a lawyer for the aunts pushed back on King’s analysis.
“The Chakalos family respectfully but strongly disagrees with the probate court’s opinion dismissing the . . . case on jurisdiction grounds,” said the aunts’ attorney, Dan Small of Holland & Knight LLP. “John immersed himself in New Hampshire where all of his adult and childhood friends live and where he constantly gave back to his community. He especially felt a part of Keene where he was from and Chesterfield where he built the home of his dreams, voted, and had many joy-filled occasions with his family and friends.”
King wasn’t persuaded.
The judge did note Chakalos’s connections to the Granite State, including a New Hampshire driver’s license, lengthy voting history there, and a “palatial” home he built in West Chesterfield, N.H., in the 1990s.
However, King also found that the totality of the evidence showed that he lived primarily in Windsor, Conn.
“It was uncontroverted that his daily activities of life, like eating meals, sleeping, attending meetings with his lawyers, financial planner, and accountant, most often took place in Connecticut,” King wrote.
He said it was “undisputed that as an adult, Connecticut was his domicile, and the Court concludes that it remained so after construction of his ‘mansion on the hill’ [in New Hampshire], and that building did not make New Hampshire his domicile. Although [the aunts’] counsel creatively argued that there is an old saying that ‘a man’s home is his castle,’ the evidence here demonstrates that John Chakalos’s castle was not his ‘home’ as the term is used for jurisdictional purposes.”
The aunts may not be ready to give up.
Small said the family is “thoroughly considering its options for filing further actions in Connecticut and New Hampshire, to make sure that Nathan is held accountable for his lies, destruction of evidence and murderous conduct.”
Filing a similar lawsuit in Connecticut could prove difficult.
“No charges have been filed in Connecticut in John Chakalos’s murder,” King wrote in his ruling. “Accordingly, it is undisputed that a ‘slayer action’ [such as the one the aunts filed in New Hampshire] cannot yet be filed under the laws of” Connecticut.
A slayer action is a lawsuit to stop a person from inheriting property from someone he murdered.
Carman came under additional scrutiny in 2016 when his fishing boat sank with him and his mother, Linda Carman, on board about 100 miles offshore from Point Judith, R.I.
Linda Carman hasn’t been found and is presumed dead.
Her share of Chakalos’s $44 million estate would go to Nathan Carman, her only child, unless the aunts prevail in an appeal of King’s ruling.
Carman faces a separate lawsuit in Rhode Island brought by the insurer of his boat. The insurer wants to block Carman’s $85,000 claim on the sunken vessel. The insurer alleges Carman made alterations to the boat before the trip with his mother in a deliberate attempt to sink the vessel.
Carman denies intentionally harming his mother and has said through counsel that the sinking was accidental.
Police in Connecticut have identified Carman, who bought a gun capable of firing the ammunition that killed Chakalos five weeks before the murder and later refused a lie detector test, as a person of interest in the slaying. But Carman has never been charged criminally.
Small, the aunts’ lawyer in the New Hampshire matter, said the evidence clearly points to Carman.
“The family believes the evidence is overwhelming that Nathan Carman murdered his grandfather, John Chakalos, and his mother, Linda Carman, to get millions of dollars for himself,” Small said. “Nathan went to New Hampshire to buy the semi-automatic assault weapon that he used to kill John Chakalos, and he continues to avoid answering questions about this and other damning evidence against him.”
Not so, according to Carman’s legal team at Shaheen & Gordon PA, a prominent New Hampshire firm cofounded by the husband of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
“Nathan has firmly and adamantly denied that he murdered his grandfather,” said Carman’s attorneys from the firm — James Rosenberg, Ben Siracusa Hillman, and Cathy Green — in a joint statement. “The death of his mother while they were fishing was a tragic accident. There is no celebrating, because Nathan has lost the two people in the world closest to him. His pain continues.”