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Man Pleads Not Guilty in Wife’s Death

  • James Robarge listens to the proceedings of his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014. Robarge plead not guilty to charges he murdered his estranged wife and hid her body in the woods in Unity, N.H., last summer, and was denied bail. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    James Robarge listens to the proceedings of his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 9, 2014. Robarge plead not guilty to charges he murdered his estranged wife and hid her body in the woods in Unity, N.H., last summer, and was denied bail.
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  • Gabrielle Robarge, the daughter of James and Kelly Robarge, wipes a tear from her face as she listens to details about her mother's death during James Robarge's arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014. Gabrielle's sister, Ciera Robarge, was also present at the arraignment, along with several other family members and friends of both James and Kelly Robarge. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Gabrielle Robarge, the daughter of James and Kelly Robarge, wipes a tear from her face as she listens to details about her mother's death during James Robarge's arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 9, 2014. Gabrielle's sister, Ciera Robarge, was also present at the arraignment, along with several other family members and friends of both James and Kelly Robarge.
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  • Det. Sgt. of the Major Crime Unit of the New Hampshire State Police, John Sonia, points out the location of where James Robarge was found with his disabled vehicle a few days after the disappearance of his estranged wife, Kelly Robarge, this summer. James Robarge plead not guilty and is being held without bail following his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Det. Sgt. of the Major Crime Unit of the New Hampshire State Police, John Sonia, points out the location of where James Robarge was found with his disabled vehicle a few days after the disappearance of his estranged wife, Kelly Robarge, this summer. James Robarge plead not guilty and is being held without bail following his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 9, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • James Robarge listens to the proceedings of his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014. Robarge plead not guilty to charges he murdered his estranged wife and hid her body in the woods in Unity, N.H., last summer, and was denied bail. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Gabrielle Robarge, the daughter of James and Kelly Robarge, wipes a tear from her face as she listens to details about her mother's death during James Robarge's arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014. Gabrielle's sister, Ciera Robarge, was also present at the arraignment, along with several other family members and friends of both James and Kelly Robarge. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Det. Sgt. of the Major Crime Unit of the New Hampshire State Police, John Sonia, points out the location of where James Robarge was found with his disabled vehicle a few days after the disappearance of his estranged wife, Kelly Robarge, this summer. James Robarge plead not guilty and is being held without bail following his arraignment at the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H.,  on Jan. 9, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Newport — A 44-year-old former Charlestown man pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges that he killed his estranged wife at their home last summer and then dumped her body in the woods in Unity.

James Robarge is charged with both first-degree and second-degree murder in the death of Kelly Robarge, who went missing from her Charlestown home in June on the same day she filed for divorce. Her remains were found more than a week later.

Robarge was ordered held without bail by Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker after a 21/2 hour hearing.

Among the evidence presented Thursday were text messages that Kelly Robarge sent just hours before she was reported missing from her home on Happy Acres Road on June 27.

During the arraignment, prosecutors called Detective Sgt. John Sonia of the State Police Major Crime Unit to testify about the day’s events last June.

Surveillance video shows that Kelly Robarge had her grandson with her when she left Claremont District Court just before 11 a.m. after filing for a divorce. At 11:14 a.m., Kelly Robarge sent a text to a friend that read, “I’m home and he’s here,” referring to her husband. (James Robarge had moved out and was living with his stepfather in Vermont at the time.)

The friend then texted back, “Does he know?” according to Sonia’s testimony.

Kelly Robarge then had a phone conversation with her friend in which she confirmed that her husband was at the home, and the friend told her, “not to tell him (about the divorce filing) by herself,” Sonia testified.

Between 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., a neighbor told police that he “clearly heard a male voice yelling in an agitated state,” Sonia said, but the neighbor couldn’t tell what was said.

A little before 3 p.m., James Robarge texted the couple’s younger daughter, Ciera, and asked if she knew where her mother was.

According to a police report and Sonia’s testimony, Robarge told his daughter that when he arrived at the house, the couple’s grandson, who is a toddler, was home alone and there was no sign of her mother.

When Ciera Robarge returned to the Happy Acres Road home after work, her father said that he was going to go look for her mother and left in his car, according to Sonia’s testimony.

During questioning from defense attorney Alex Parsons, Sonia said that Kelly Robarge’s body likely was in the trunk of James Robarge’s car when their daughter returned home.

Sonia testified that authorities believe James Robarge then went to his stepfather’s home in Saxtons River, Vt., where he had been living, and that he then drove back to Unity.

Around 6 p.m., police found Robarge with his broken down vehicle on the side of 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike about two miles from where Kelly Robarge’s body would be found more than a week later, Sonia said.

Robarge was taken to the police station and had blood on his sneakers and shorts, Sonia testified, and the blood on his shorts tested positive for Kelly Robarge’s DNA. Robarge wasn’t wearing a shirt and had scratches on his neck, chest and hands. Robarge told police the scratches were from corralling the numerous German Shepherd’s at his wife’s home.

About 10 to 15 feet from Robarge’s broken down vehicle, police found a couple of towels, a long cord with plastic coating and a mat from a trunk of a car.

All of the items contained a large amount of blood, Sonia said. The trunk mat was tested at a forensic lab, and it was determined that Kelly Robarge’s blood was on the mat, Sonia said.

Robarge was not arrested until about a week later, after he allegedly led police in Vermont on a high-speed pursuit in an unrelated incident.

An autopsy report determined that Kelly Robarge, whose body was found in a wooded area off Britton Road in Unity, died from “homicidal violence by undetermined means,” according to Sonia’s testimony. An exact cause of death could not be determined because of the poor condition of her remains when found.

At the Happy Acres Road home, investigators found blood in the front entry hallway, on the back of the front door, on a bookcase, on a fish tank, on a bathroom toilet, sink and tub, Sonia said. The front door and a banister also had damage.

In court on Thursday, James Robarge spoke only once to say “not guilty” when the judge asked him for a plea. He repeatedly wrote notes on a yellow pad of paper.

The couple’s two daughters, Gabrielle and Ciera, sat in the front row of the courtroom, along with other family members, including Roger Moul, James Robarge’s stepfather. More than a dozen people attended the hearing, including a couple of Kelly Robarge’s friends and her mother.

During most of the hearing, Ciera and Gabrielle displayed little reaction. They looked at Sonia as he testified, glanced at their father and sometimes at each other.

Near the end of the hearing, before the judge announced that James Robarge would be held without bail, Gabrielle leaned forward and held her head in her hands.

After the hearing, the family met with prosecutors and the daughters left without speaking to reporters.

Reached by phone later in the day, Gabrielle Robarge declined to comment.

Under New Hampshire, first-degree murder occurs when the person’s “conscious object is the death of another,” and the person’s acts were deliberate and premeditated. Reckless second-degree murder occurs when someone causes death with “circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” but it is not deliberate or premeditated. Both carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

During cross examination, Parsons — Robarge’s defense attorney — made the point that the cause of death could not be determined during the autopsy, and it’s possible that no weapon was used.

Parsons also questioned Sonia extensively about James Robarge’s travel the afternoon that his wife went missing, the blood on James Robarge’s shorts and what occurred at the police station after Robarge was found with his broken down car.

Defense attorney Caroline Smith argued that no one saw James Robarge with his wife the day she went missing and argued that there is no evidence of premeditation or purposeful action.

Ultimately, Judge Tucker determined that the state met the burden of proof to keep Robarge in jail without bail pending a trial.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.