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N.H. Sentence Unchanged

Manchester — A New Hampshire man convicted of hacking to death a woman and maiming her daughter in a 2009 home invasion was sentenced once again yesterday to life in prison without parole, plus 76 years.

Steven Spader was required to be re-sentenced under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles. The court held that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as criminal adults without considering their age and other factors.

Spader, who was a month shy of turning 18 when he killed Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon in 2009, did not appear in court either for a hearing Monday or for yesterday’s sentencing and had instructed his lawyers to present no evidence in support of a reduced sentence. In a letter to the court, he apologized to the Cates family and said he accepted responsibility for his actions.

In her ruling, Judge Gillian Abramson said she gave no weight to that apology, noting that Spader earlier had said his main regret was not choosing better co-conspirators. She called his letter “self-serving, disingenuous and inconsistent with the defendant’s true regret,” as well as his ongoing obsession with killing and torture.

“The circumstances of these horrific crimes and the extent of the defendant’s planning and participating warrant the imposition of life without parole and maximum consecutive sentences,” she wrote.

Abramson said there was nothing in Spader’s background that might have contributed to his commission of the crimes — he had a “childhood filled with advantages and opportunities.” And unlike the 14-year-olds at the center of the Supreme Court case, Spader was neither pressured by others nor immature. Instead, he was the ringleader.

“The defendant’s participation in the attack was integral: defendant planned the assault, brutally murdered and maimed the victims, and as captain of this amoral team, intended to savagely kill them,” she wrote. “He reveled in his senseless crimes.”

“It is not a lack of maturity impoverishing his judgment, but rather a profound and disturbing lack of humanity,” Abramson wrote.

Spader’s attorney, Jonathan Cohen, said the sentence was what he expected given that he was not allowed to present arguments for a reduced sentence. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, who called Cates’ husband, David, just after the judge’s ruling, said it was appropriate that Spader was again given the maximum sentenced allowed under the law.

“Given what the Cates family has suffered, it’s not fair, but the system isn’t set up to give people fairness in circumstances like this when they lose a loved one. All we can do is give them the justice the system allows, and that’s what we’ve done here.”

Spader was the first person to go on trial in the attacks. Co-defendant Christopher Gribble also is serving a life sentence. Three others in prison accepted a plea deal and testified against Spader.

While every murder case is terrible, the randomness and sheer brutality of the attack, the number of defendants involved and the fact that they planned other crimes makes this case “the worst of the worst,” Strelzin said.