Federal judge bars murder evidence in Nathan Carman civil trial
A federal judge has rejected a bid by two insurers to present evidence about the slaying of Nathan Carman’s grandfather at trial, ruling they must try to prove that Carman caused his boat to sink without delving into potential motives.
The civil trial, slated to begin Tuesday in US District Court in Rhode Island, will focus narrowly on whether Carman breached an $85,000 insurance policy for his 31-foot boat, the Chicken Pox, when he made modifications to it before he and his mother left Point Judith, R.I., in September 2016 on a fishing trip.
A week later, Carman was rescued from a life raft about 115 miles off Martha’s Vineyard and said his boat sank so suddenly he was unable to save his mother or radio for help.
Carman was also the last known person to see his wealthy grandfather, John Chakalos, before he was found shot to death inside his home in Windsor, Conn., in December 2013. Police identified Carman as a suspect in his death, but he has never faced criminal charges in that slaying or the presumed death of his mother.
Two days after he was found at sea, Carman filed an $85,000 claim, and the insurance companies sued for breach of contract. In court documents, the insurers alleged that Carman deliberately sabotaged the boat to kill his mother and previously killed his grandfather.
In rare public comments, Carman, 25, told the Globe he was fighting the insurance companies’ lawsuit because he has done nothing wrong and wants to prove that at trial.
“I want people to know that the trial is happening because I am choosing for it to happen,” Carman, who lives in Vernon, Vt., wrote in an e-mail Thursday. “Unlike a criminal case, or a civil tort seeking an award of massive damages, I could walk away from this with no cost, no risk, and frankly, a lot less damage to my reputation because reporters and tabloidists would not have an ongoing saga to keep writing about. The only cost to walking away would be I lose out on a small insurance claim, the value of which has already been greatly diminished by attorneys fees and expenses.”
“The reason I am not walking away, no matter what, is because I am innocent and I want my day in court,” he added.
Lawyers for the National Liability & Fire Insurance Co. and the Boat Owners Association of the United States, which sold Carman the policy, had sought to present evidence of Carman’s alleged involvement in his grandfather’s slaying, but US District Judge John J. McConnell Jr. rejected the motion on Friday.
Chakalos, an 87-year-old real estate developer who owned homes in Connecticut and New Hampshire, left a $44 million estate to his four daughters, including Carman’s mother, Linda.
The insurance companies wanted to present evidence that Carman inherited $560,000 after his grandfather’s death and stood to inherit millions more as his mother’s only child.
That evidence was crucial for the insurance companies to advance their theory “that the disappearance of his boat was part of Mr. Carman’s common scheme to obtain millions of dollars in inheritance by murdering his grandfather and mother,” the lawyers wrote.
But the judge ruled that only some of the claims brought by the insurers will be heard during the bench trial. It will focus on claims that Carman’s insurance policy was nullified because of faulty repairs he made, including drilling holes to remove the trim tabs and patching them with sealant.
“The court therefore will not be trying any issues involving the counts that allege intentional acts by Mr. Carman,” he wrote.
However, the judge indicated that if the insurance companies lose at trial, there could be a second trial on whether Carman intentionally sank his boat. Evidence about Chakalos’s murder would potentially be allowed at that point.
Attorneys representing the insurance companies and Carman declined to comment on the case, which had been expected to shed light on the circumstances of Chakalos’s murder.
The companies sought to present evidence that Carman purchased a Sig Sauer rifle from the Shooters Outpost in Hookset, N.H., six weeks before his grandfather was shot to death, but told police he didn’t own any firearms. When they discovered his purchase, he refused to tell authorities where the rifle was.
On the night of Dec. 19, 2013, Carman had dinner with Chakalos and was the last known person to see him alive, according to authorities. Hours later, Chakalos was shot in the head in his bed. The murder weapon has never been found.
Carman destroyed his computer’s hard drive and his truck’s GPS after his grandfather’s slaying, according to court records.
In his e-mail to the Globe, Carman said the insurers “have unlimited resources, and have dedicated years to turning over every rock, collecting every bit of evidence, no matter how small, that they think may help their case; the court will hear their evidence, as well as my own, and issue a verdict. I am confident that verdict will be in my favor.”
Carman’s lawyers have alleged in court filings that Chakalos had a sexual relationship with a 25-year-old woman at the time of his death and suggested that she or her boyfriend were potential suspects in his slaying.
Carman’s three aunts — his mother’s sisters — filed a so-called “slayer” suit in New Hampshire two years ago accusing Carman of killing his grandfather, and possibly his mother, as part of a scheme to collect a multimillion-dollar inheritance. It asked a probate court to bar him from collecting any money from their estates, but that case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. The sisters have appealed that ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The sisters declined to comment on Friday’s court ruling, but released a statement through their lawyers last month that said, “We continue to seek justice every day, and continue to assist law enforcement so that justice will ultimately occur. We look forward to this public trial allowing the public, law enforcement, and the court to learn as much as possible about the circumstances surrounding this tragic event at sea.”