Man Who Set Claremont Fire Transferred to State Hospital

  • In a screen grab from WMUR-TV, Matthew Carignan appears at a hearing in Concord, N.H., on November 17, 2016, where a judge granted a stipulation that he be transferred to the state hospital. (Courtesy WMUR-TV)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2016 11:00:40 PM

Concord — The man who killed a husband and wife when he set fire to a Claremont apartment building in 2004 will be transferred from prison to a “step-down” unit at the state psychiatric hospital.

Matthew Carignan, 33, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder in 2006 and has remained confined to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the New Hampshire State Prison ever since.

He has undergone several risk assessments over the years, but doctors have repeatedly deemed him a danger to the public. This summer, however, a doctor administered an updated risk assessment and concluded that Carignan presents “a low to moderate likelihood of future reoffending,” according to a stipulation for transfer to the New Hampshire Hospital filed in Merrimack Superior Court in Concord.

“Unlike at the time of the prior risk assessment, Mr. Carignan was noted to have committed himself to regular counseling and treatment specifically targeting his fire setting behaviors,” the stipulation said.

Carignan suffers from several mental disorders or conditions, and officials say a “mix of mental and neurological illness” caused him to commit the crime in Claremont.

All parties to the case appeared in court on Thursday for a hearing on Carignan’s discharge to the less-restrictive unit. A judge at that hearing granted the transfer, a move that was agreed upon by both defense attorneys and prosecutors in the case, according to the stipulation.

Carignan must abide by several conditions at the New Hampshire Hospital, and if he disobeys them, he will be transferred back to prison, according to the stipulation.

Some of his conditions include participating in treatment, therapy, counseling and programming, complying with his medication regimen and maintaining good behavior.

Individuals who are deemed fit for release from the state hospital either go into transitional housing or are released back into the community. Carignan must go before a judge before he is deemed ready for another move, the stipulation said.

Because he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, his case is re-evaluated every five years. He was most recently recommitted to the secure unit of the state prison in February.

News of the transfer didn’t sit well with Emily Estep, the daughter of Lynn and Laurie Estep, who were killed in the apartment fire in October 2004.

Police say Carignan used a cigarette lighter to ignite a canvas chair on the porch of the five-unit apartment building; Emily Estep and her older sister, Erica, were home at the time of the fire, but escaped unharmed.

“The worry for me will never go away,” the 25-year-old Concord resident said. “Now that he is moving to a step-down unit, he’s that much closer to being out and about with the public. ... All I can do is push forward.”

In addition to the first-degree murder counts, Carignan also faced seven charges of attempted murder for each of the tenants who escaped the fire.

At the time, Carignan also had pending charges in Manchester in connection with a fire at his parents’ home in that city earlier in 2004.

It wasn’t immediately known when Carignan would be transferred.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at

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