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The State of New Hampshire v. Christopher Gribble

May 7, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bassett, J.

Argued: November 8, 2012

The defendant, Christopher Gribble, appeals his convictions, following a jury trial, for first-degree murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, witness tampering, and conspiracy to commit burglary. See RSA 626:8 (2007); RSA 630:1-a (2007); RSA 629:1 (2007); RSA 629:3 (2007); RSA 641:5 (2007); RSA 635:1 (2007). On appeal, he argues that the Superior Court (Abramson, J.) erred when it: (1) denied his motion to suppress; (2) denied his motions for a change of venue; and (3) instructed the jury concerning insanity. We affirm.

The defendant's convictions arise out of a home invasion in Mont Vernon that he and three other individuals carried out in the early morning hours of October 4, 2009, which resulted in the death of Kimberly Cates. The defendant was charged with alternate counts of first-degree murder, alleging that, acting in concert with, and aided by, Steven Spader, he purposely orknowingly caused the death of Cates by attacking her with a knife. He was also charged with attempted murder of Cates' daughter, witness tampering, and conspiracy to commit murder and burglary. The defendant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury found him sane and guilty of all of the charges. This appeal followed.

On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made to the New Hampshire State Police that he claimed were obtained in violation of his right to remain silent. He further contends that the court erred in denying his motions for a change of venue. He argues that a venue change was necessary due to the extensive amount of pretrial publicity regarding the crimes and the earlier trial of Steven Spader. Finally, he asserts that the court erroneously instructed the jury regarding insanity. We address each argument in turn.

I. Suppression

The following facts are drawn from the trial court's order on the defendant's motion to suppress and the record, or are otherwise undisputed. On October 5, 2009, Troopers John Encarnacao and Jeffrey Ardini of the New Hampshire State Police interviewed the defendant at the New Hampshire State Police Troop B barracks in Milford regarding Cates' murder and the related crimes. At the outset of the interview, Trooper Encarnacao confirmed with the defendant that his presence at the barracks was voluntary and that the interview would be recorded. He further advised the defendant of his Miranda rights. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The defendant stated that he understood his rights and agreed to answer questions. The troopers then questioned the defendant about his recent activities.

After approximately an hour, the recording device malfunctioned. When the interview resumed using a replacement audio recorder, Trooper Ardini asked the defendant if he remembered his Miranda rights. The defendant responded that he did. At that point, the troopers resumed questioning the defendant. They accused him of participating in the home invasion and the attack on Cates and her daughter. The defendant maintained that he could not recall everything that he had done during the preceding forty-eight hours, but he denied participating in the crimes.

As the interview progressed, the troopers employed various tactics to elicit an admission from the defendant concerning his involvement in the crimes. They expressed skepticism at his memory loss and told the defendant that they did not believe him because his friends had inculpated him in the crimes. They repeatedly told the defendant that what he had told them did not match what his friends were saying and that this was his opportunity to tell the truth and explain "why this happened." For instance, at one point Trooper Ardini said to the defendant:

[Trooper Encarnacao] and I just want to know the why, the how. It's not just crime, suspect, done. Come on. You think the lawyers that we deal with are going to take that? No. They want to know the why because it totally changes the story. . . . We try to answer the whys and the whos but when there's more than one person you need to start looking out for yourself. And that's where the why comes in. That's why [we] are still in this room with you. We're here for you we want to give you the time. We understand it is not, it goes against everything in our inner instinctual mannerisms to admit any connection to this whole thing. Any. Even if you just drove to the general area and the people got out and they did whatever it is they did, you don't know whatever, it just goes against every instinct that we have in our bodies to say that because there's consequences to it. We're not bull****ting you, there's consequences. But the consequences are vastly different depending on the why. And that's why we're here. . . . We want to help you paint that picture that helps explain your why before they paint it for you.

(Emphases added.) He later told the defendant:

You know those guys are giving stuff up and you know what they're giving up is matching what we already know. I don't know how else to tell you. This is your chance to give your version of why. Because the why is what's going to explain it and change the perception of this whole thing specifically of you. We can only throw you the rope man. We can only throw you the rope. You got to grab it.

(Emphasis added.) Trooper Encarnacao subsequently told him that "[t]he door is closing on your opportunity to explain why this happened." (Emphasis added.)

Despite the troopers' persistent exhortations to tell the truth and explain what happened, the defendant continued to profess his innocence. He challenged the evidence that the troopers claimed connected him to the crime, and further questioned why, if the troopers had such evidence, they had not already arrested him. After two and a half hours, Trooper Encarnacao stopped the interview to give everyone a break.

Approximately twenty minutes later, the troopers resumed the interview. Trooper Ardini again asked the defendant if he remembered and understood his Miranda rights. The defendant said that he did and that he wanted to help with the investigation. The troopers then continued to confront him with information they had about the crimes. Shortly thereafter, the following conversation took place:

[The defendant]: (inaudible) I don't have to say anything.

[Trooper Encarnacao]: You don't.

[The defendant]: So I don't want to.

[Trooper Encarnacao]: What?

[The defendant]: So I won't.

[Trooper Ardini]: What does that mean Chris?

[The defendant]: I have a right not to say anything.

[Trooper Ardini]: That's true.

[The defendant]: So I won't say anything.

[Trooper Encarnacao]: So what you're saying is you don't want to talk to us any longer? You have to speak.

[The defendant]: Yes.

[Trooper Encarnacao]: This interview is over then?

[Trooper Ardini]: At Chris's request we are ending the interview and the recording. The time by my watch is 17:26.

At that time, the troopers turned off the recording equipment and ceased all questioning. Before Trooper Encarnacao left the interview room, the defendant said "something to the effect that he was just tired, that he's sorry, he doesn't feel like talking anymore." Trooper Encarnacao told him, "[H]ey, that's your prerogative, you don't want to talk, that's fine, you don't have to."

The defendant was then left alone in the interview room while Trooper Encarnacao alternated between sitting at a desk directly outside the interview room and speaking with other investigators about the case in another room at the barracks. At no point did the defendant request to leave. After about an hour, the defendant leaned forward and beckoned to Trooper Encarnacao, indicating that he wanted to speak with him. Trooper Encarnacao moved to the doorway of the interview room.

Trooper Encarnacao then had what he described as "several separate conversations" with the defendant in the span of fifteen to twenty minutes. The defendant first asked him "if everybody was still there," and he told the defendant that he was not sure because he had spent the afternoon with the defendant. Trooper Encarnacao further told the defendant that it had been a long day and that he was tired. The defendant agreed and began talking about his family. The defendant then asked Trooper Encarnacao if his job was hard. Trooper Encarnacao responded that it was. The defendant continued to question the trooper about his job and whether it was "hard to deal with." Trooper Encarnacao responded, "[Y]ou know, at times it is, but it's like any other job, you take the good with the bad." The defendant "said something to the effect that [Trooper Encarnacao] must see a lot, that must be hard to deal with," to which Trooper Encarnacao responded, "it can be, but, you know, the real thing that's hard to deal with is when you, you know, can't find the answers why something happens." (Emphasis added.)

The defendant then brought up the subject of the death penalty, asking Trooper Encarnacao whether the crimes under investigation were eligible for the death penalty. Trooper Encarnacao told him that he did not think so and then explained what crimes were eligible for the death penalty. The defendant also asked about the difference between first and second-degree murder, and Trooper Encarnacao explained the difference.

Following this conversation, Trooper Encarnacao testified that the defendant said, "you know what, why don't you go get your recorder . . . I'll tell you everything." Trooper Encarnacao testified that he was surprised by the defendant's statement because, in his mind, the interview was over, and the defendant had already decided not to tell the troopers anything else. Trooper Encarnacao reminded the defendant that he did not have to talk, but the defendant said, "[N]o, you know, I'm going to tell you everything." Trooper Encarnacao told the defendant that he had to retrieve his audio recorder and locate Trooper Ardini. The defendant stated that he did not want to speak with Trooper Ardini, but that he trusted Trooper Encarnacao. Trooper Encarnacao then retrieved an audio recorder and returned to the interview room. He testified that he asked the defendant "if he wanted to do this," and the defendant "said he did."

Trooper Encarnacao then began recording. The following conversation ensued:

[Trooper Encarnacao]: And this is a continuation of [an] interview that we ended maybe forty five minutes or so ago. Ah it might have been a little longer. At your request we had been speaking with ah, well it was Chris and I and Trooper Jeff Ardini from the Major Crime Unit at that time. Ah and again we were, we were interviewing Chris and at some point Chris said that he didn't feel like talking anymore. Ah is it true you've come to me and you've told me you'd like to talk again?

[The defendant]: Yes I would.

Thereafter, Trooper Encarnacao again read the defendant his Miranda rights. The defendant said that he understood his rights and he further agreed to speak with Trooper Encarnacao and answer questions. The defendant then confessed to his involvement in the crimes.

Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress his confession, arguing, in part, that his right to remain silent was violated because, after he had asserted this right, Trooper Encarnacao conducted "the functional equivalent of interrogation which [led] back to a recorded formal interrogation." Following a hearing, the trial court denied the defendant's motion. The court found that, once the defendant invoked his right to remain silent, Trooper Encarnacao neither expressly interrogated the defendant nor conducted the functional equivalent of interrogation. Rather, the court found that the "defendant's statements were initiated solely by him, without any ...

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