Man Sentenced for Slayings: Couple Was Shot in Grafton
Robert LaCombe’s attorney Caroline Smith speaks before his statement in Grafton Superior Court yesterday. LaCombe was sentenced to 55 years to life in prison for fatally shooting Will Hatch and Crystal Farnham in June 2011. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Will Hatch’s sister, Kayla Hatch, of Grafton, cries as she asks for a stiffer sentence for LaCombe than called for in a plea agreement. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Relatives and friends of Crystal Farnham and Wil Hatch listen to Robert LaCombe Jr. speak during his sentencing at Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
North Haverhill — For the better part of an hour, Robert LaCombe listened silently as members of a family that had once taken him in wished the worst for him: They said they hated him. They said they hoped he would kill himself in prison. They said they wished they could serve on a firing squad for his execution.
When his turn came to speak, LaCombe did not explain why he fatally shot Will Hatch and Crystal Farnham in June 2011 after the couple had asked him to move out of their Grafton home.
But he told their families that he understood their rage.
“I’ve always loved you guys,” LaCombe, 25, told Hatch and Farnham’s family during his sentencing hearing inside Grafton County Superior Court. “I never wanted any of this. I think about you guys all the time. You guys are always in my dreams. I think about Will and Crystal every day, and if you think I don’t have any remorse or I don’t care, you are wrong. Will was like my brother, and if you think I’m OK with this, I’m not. I’m not OK. I have to look at myself in the mirror every day. Every day. I was wrong and I know that. They did not deserve what happened to them. I know how bad you guys hate me, but none of you guys hate me more than I hate myself. That I promise you.”
In accordance with a plea deal struck earlier this year, a judge yesterday sentenced LaCombe to 55 years to life on two counts of second-degree murder. If LaCombe stays out of trouble in prison, he could ask a judge to have 15 years taken off his minimum. With credit for time served since his arrest, LaCombe could be released when he is in his early 60s.
More than two dozen friends and relatives of Hatch and Farnham packed the courtroom gallery. Several said they were upset not just by LaCombe’s betrayal of his longtime friends, but by the plea deal prosecutors struck instead of taking the case to trial.
They said LaCombe should have been found guilty of first-degree murder, and bristled at an unsubstantiated suggestion from LaCombe — which they learned of many months after the incident — that Hatch had pulled a gun and forced him to fire in self-defense.
And they grew more frustrated in recent weeks when they saw media accounts of 23-year-old Myles Webster being sentenced to 60 years in prison for shooting a Manchester police officer several times. The officer survived and hopes to return to active duty.
Why, family members wondered, should LaCombe serve 40 years for killing two people, while Webster got 60 years for wounding one person?
“If Will and Crystal had been wearing jackets and had a badge, we would not be here,” Hatch’s younger sister, Kayla Hatch, of Grafton, said during the hearing. “He would be in jail for the rest of his life. Because they were normal citizens, he gets to have 15 years off his sentence. I am going to still be here when he gets out. My brother will still be in his grave.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice Rundles acknowledged the family’s dissatisfaction, but defended the plea deal. Webster was a convicted felon and on probation, and engaged in a shootout with police that endangered members of the public, Rundles said.
“That case was different than this case,” Rundles said.
Judge Timothy Vaughan accepted the agreement, saying it was in line with sentences for second-degree murder across New Hampshire.
“I think this represents a fair and reasonable solution to a very difficult problem,” Vaughan said.
Before the sentenced was finalized, authorities yesterday provided some new information about LaCombe. In statements he gave authorities after pleading guilty, LaCombe was still reluctant to detail the events of June 23, 2011, and provided only a “sketchy description” of the crime, Rundles said.
He blamed the incident entirely on his drug use, but Rundles said the state’s investigation suggests that he was driven by spite more than addiction. Hatch, 24, and Farnham, 23, had grown weary of supporting LaCombe and had asked him to leave. He became enraged.
“He was not paying his own way,” Rundles said. “It appears that through most of his adult life the defendant has not only been a drug addict but ... failed to hold down a job. The victims were fed up, and asked him to leave their apartment, and that’s what caused this whole thing.”
Authorities also revealed for the first time that LaCombe, who was homeless for a time and dropped out of high school, was a methadone addict and had bragged to friends in the months before the murder that he “liked” being a drug addict and had no intention of trying to quit.
LaCombe, an area native who spent most of his teenage years in Florida, moved back to the Upper Valley in 2011. Hatch, his childhood friend, and Farnham had allowed him to move into their home on Island Pond Road in Grafton, but after a few months their relationship became strained.
On June 23, 2011, Hatch and LaCombe were arguing and drinking inside home Kayla Hatch’s home in Grafton.
Hatch told his friend that he was sick of him being a “mooch,” and told him he needed to move out.
LaCombe said that “were it not for (Hatch’s) mother and sister, he would kill him,” authorities said.
The men returned to the nearby Island Pond Road home soon after.
Hatch’s mother and stepfather, who lived in a mobile home on the same property, reported hearing gunshots that night.
Police found the bodies of Hatch and Farnham the next day. Authorities said LaCombe shot Hatch in the head, neck and abdomen with a 9mm Glock, and Farnham in the head, chest and back.
LaCombe was captured without incident at a Comfort Inn in Randolph, Mass., the day after the shootings. Investigators found a suicide note in his room.
Will Hatch loved to write songs and hike and fish with his buddies and doted on a niece whom, for reasons no one ever quite figured out, he called “Turkey Butt.” He was so close to his girlfriend that his family joked that their inevitable nuptials would be seem like he was marrying his sister.
Farnham, a short, slight woman, dreamed of being a nurse, a wife, and a mom.
She started working as a 16-year-old and was so tender with her patients at Hanover Terrace Nursing Home that several of them made the trip to Grafton for her funeral.
Family members say the sense of loss has not diminished in the more than 18 months since the murders.
“I loved (LaCombe) but you see all the people he hurt with his actions,” Hatch’s stepfather, Ken Carter, said. “All the times they helped him, he just blew it all away with no regard. It’s terrible that he’s wasted three lives.”
Carter’s statement, along with five others provided by family members yesterday, were laced with rage.
“You shot my daughter as she tried to get away from you,” Farnham’s mother, Lisa Hamel, said. “You are a cold-blooded murderer. I will never forgive you. I hate you, and I hope you rot in hell.”
Sitting at the defense table, LaCombe sometimes looked at the speaker, and other times bowed his head, allowing the shoulder length hair he had grown since his arrest to shield his face.
When it came for his time to speak, his attorney, Caroline Smith, cautioned onlookers that LaCombe struggles to express himself and might not have much to say. But, indeed, he did.
Speaking slowly in a strong voice without notes, LaCombe rambled for several minutes, apologizing and stressing again and again that he had never wanted the shooting to happen.
On a few occasions, Smith patted LaCombe on the shoulder, seemingly urging him to stop .
Moments before sheriff’s deputies took him out of the courtroom, LaCombe had one more thing to say.
He told the crowd that he would remember the good times. He said those memories were all he had left.
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.