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Man Confesses in Murder: Dorchester Native Admits He Killed Woman 23 Years Ago

  • Craig W. Conkey speaks to the judge in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Beside him is his attorney James Brooks.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Craig W. Conkey speaks to the judge in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Beside him is his attorney James Brooks. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joseph Reed, father of Theresa Reed, gives a victim's impact statement  in Grafton Superior Court, in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Reed's daughter was killed in 1991.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Joseph Reed, father of Theresa Reed, gives a victim's impact statement in Grafton Superior Court, in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Reed's daughter was killed in 1991. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Theresa Reed in an undated photograph.

    Theresa Reed in an undated photograph. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Judge Peter Bornstein speaks to Craig W. Conkey during a plea agreement in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Judge Peter Bornstein speaks to Craig W. Conkey during a plea agreement in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Craig W. Conkey speaks to the judge in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Beside him is his attorney James Brooks.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Joseph Reed, father of Theresa Reed, gives a victim's impact statement  in Grafton Superior Court, in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Reed's daughter was killed in 1991.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Theresa Reed in an undated photograph.
  • Judge Peter Bornstein speaks to Craig W. Conkey during a plea agreement in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 14, 2014. Conkey pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed in 1991. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

North Haverhill — A Grafton County native twice convicted of murdering women pleaded guilty to a third murder on Friday, bringing to a close a case that has been unsolved since 1991.

Craig Conkey, 47, received a mandatory sentence of life without parole in Grafton Superior Court after pleading guilty in the stabbing death of Theresa Reed, a 30-year-old assistant in the Registrar’s Office at Plymouth State College.

“It is a happy day,” said Joseph Reed, Theresa’s father, as he addressed Conkey during the hearing. “It is a happy day to know that finally, closure is coming in this case, although I don’t know what closure is.”

Conkey, who grew up in Dorchester and graduated from Mascoma Valley Regional High School in 1985, sat across the courtroom from Reed, tall and wearing a green Department of Corrections uniform. He was handcuffed. After the sentencing, a police officer guided him out of the courtroom by the chain around his waist.

Friday’s sentence will be added to the two life sentences Conkey is concurrently serving in Massachusetts for two murders that took place in that state in the 1990s. Those two sentences, however, left Conkey with the possibility of parole.

During the hearing, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin laid out the case the state would have made if it had gone to trial.

Strelzin said that, in July 2012, officers with New Hampshire’s Cold Case Unit went to visit Conkey in prison in Massachusetts following his recent convictions for the 1990s murders. In 1995, Strelzin said, Conkey was a suspect in Reed’s murder, but “there was simply not enough evidence at the time.”

“That’s when he first came on the radar up here,” said Michael Kokowski, a detective with the Cold Case Unit.

During the visit, Conkey didn’t confess. But as the officers left, he offered hints that he knew more about the case than he had let on.

The officers tried again later. Conkey asked if they had enough evidence to convict him of Reed’s murder; they said no. Conkey then volunteered to the investigators that he committed the crime.

According to Strelzin, Conkey told the investigators that he went to Reed’s Plymouth, N.H. apartment one night in September 1991 with the intent of burglarizing it. He didn’t know Reed; the apartment he broke into was chosen at random.

Once inside and looking around, Conkey found Reed on her bed, and she began to scream when he entered the room.

“In order to keep her quiet, he lunged across her,” Strelzin told the court. “He stabbed her as much as he could.”

An autopsy later showed that Reed had been stabbed nine times.

During the assault, Reed’s body fell into the space between her bed and the wall. Conkey’s knowledge of that fact — which had not been previously disclosed to the public — as well as his knowledge of the murder weapon — a knife with a six-inch blade and a tightly wound leather strap around the handle that was eventually found outside Reed’s apartment — gave credence to Conkey’s confession, Strelzin said.

During the interview with cold case investigators, Conkey confessed to another unsolved violent crime — the 1989 attempted strangulation of a Manchester, flower shop worker.

Conkey told investigators that he spent a maximum of two minutes in Reed’s apartment the night of the assault, and left in a state of shock. He slept in the woods that night, and walked to his parents’ Dorchester home, where he grew up, the next day, Strelzin related.

The Associated Press reported that following Reed’s 1991 stabbing, Plymouth-area stores experienced higher sales of items such as ammunition, door locks and Mace from residents worried there might be a killer on the loose.

Strelzin told the court that the state would have “no problem” to have Conkey incarcerated in New Hampshire prison, although he noted afterward such a move would require Massachusetts consenting to the arrangement.

If they don’t, Conkey would remain in a Bay State prison unless or until he makes parole, Strelzin said, after which he’d be released into the Granite State’s custody. The earliest that could happen is in the mid-2020s.

One way or the other, Conkey “understands that he’s going to be incarcerated for the rest of his life,” said James Brooks, Conkey’s public defender, after the hearing.

Indeed, Conkey told the judge at the start of the hearing that he wanted to “get it over with” and plead guilty.

Later, Bornstein asked if Conkey knew that first-degree murder was the maximum charge he could receive. Conkey instead brought up the death penalty, a sentence he was told he could not receive for the crime he did at the time he did it.

Under questioning by Bornstein to determine if Conkey fully understood the consequences of his guilty plea, Conkey acknowledged he did and even volunteered that the death penalty might be better than spending the rest of his life in prison.

“After being in (prison) for 20 years, I would have preferred the death penalty,” he eventually said.

The prosecutor, judge and Conkey’s defense lawyer all noted, however, that Conkey wouldn’t have been eligible for the death penalty because he hadn’t been charged with capital murder.

The back-and-forth between Conkey and the judge came after Joseph Reed’s brief remarks, where he noted the coincidence that Conkey’s sentencing occurred on Valentine’s Day, one of Theresa Reed’s favorite holidays.

He said the family still has the last Valentine’s Day card she sent them, signed, like all her other notes, with the words “love ya.”

“At Theresa’s funeral I had a few things to say,” Reed said, addressing Conkey. “And I said that you’re still part of humanity. Now whether that is a blessing or a condemnation, I don’t know.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION

Dorchester native Craig Conkey pleaded guilty to a murder he committed in Plymouth, N.H., in 1991, which was 23 years ago. The time span was incorrect in an earlier version of a headline on this story.