Charlestown man dies weeks after alleged beating over backpack

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-12-2023 10:40 PM

CHARLESTOWN — A Charlestown man is being charged with first-degree felony assault in the alleged beating of another man who then spent a combined 21 days in intensive and palliative care before dying, according to court records and interviews with the victim’s family members.

Marcel Boucher, 42, of Charlestown, was indicted Dec. 19, accused of causing “serious bodily injury” to Christopher Conant, 53, also of Charlestown, “by striking Conant repeatedly and/or throwing him to the ground” during an alleged assault on Nov. 26, according to New Hampshire state court records and interviews.

Conant died at the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative & Hospice Care at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon on Dec. 17, according to family members.

Boucher, of East Street in Charlestown, is scheduled to be arraigned on the assault charge on Feb. 1 at Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, according to court records.

Police and prosecutors said they are waiting for the state Medical Examiner’s Office to determine the cause of his death before considering amended charges against Boucher.

“We haven’t charged (Boucher) with causing the death of Chris Conant yet because we are waiting on the final medical examiner’s report,” Charlestown Police Chief Patrick Connors said Friday. “But we firmly believe that Marcel Boucher caused the death of Christopher Conant. That’s what we believe happened. We just need the science to back it up.”

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A first-degree assault charge itself comes with a stiff penalty if a defendant is convicted: 7½ to 15 years in state prison. Meanwhile, negligent homicide, a Class B felony if not committed while driving under the influence, is punishable by up to seven years in prison under New Hampshire law.

Connors said the incident occurred between the Jiffy Mart and Sumner House restaurant on Main Street. Conant was sitting on a bench when Boucher approached Conant and allegedly assaulted him because “he believed (Conant) had stolen a backpack from him,” the police chief said.

The incident is still under investigation, Connors said.

“We’re not even sure if Chris is the one who took the backpack,” he said.

The incident was recorded by Jiffy Mart’s surveillance cameras, according to Connors.

“We have the assault on video,” he said.

Richard Guerriero, an attorney for Boucher, said his client has longtime ties in the community.

“Mr. Boucher is a Charlestown husband and father who has lived and worked in Sullivan County his entire life,” Guerriero said in an email Friday. “He has been in contact with law enforcement and the county attorney since this tragic incident occurred. He will continue to respect the legal process and will address the case in court.”

Conant was a lifelong Charlestown resident with an acknowledged history of alcohol addiction. He also suffered severe burns in a house fire years ago. Family members said Conant’s personal struggles were well-known by town officials, and although he’d had run-ins with the police on occasion, he was not violent.

“My brother was a very kind person,” said Conant’s sister, Hilary Conant, a senior auditor and program consultant with Vermont’s Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. “He was just not a threatening person at all. Like many people with addictions in small towns, he struggled with poverty and not enough resources for support.”

The Conant family has deep roots in Charlestown, with two generations working at the former Fellows Gear Shaper Co. in Springfield, Vt., and a member who was a noted Harvard-educated botanist.

Chris Conant — who spent three months in the hospital receiving repeated skin grafts to treat disfiguring burns over more than 30% of his body suffered in a house fire in 2000 — worked as a custodian at Fall Mountain Regional High School before going on disability in 2018, his sister said.

Conant’s mother, Carol Hanna, said her son was rail-thin and had a mangled hand with an amputated pinky — injuries sustained in the fire — and was incapable of fighting.

Hanna traveled from her home in Mexico to attend to him during his final weeks of life. Mother and daughter sat vigil in Chris Conant’s room at the hospital.

The alleged assault left her son with a brain bleed, and part of his skull was removed in surgery, she said.

“He was just a very, very shy and quiet person,” Hanna said in an interview on Friday.

Because he didn’t drive, Chris Conant was often seen walking around Charlestown, and sometimes he would get lifts with the police and others who knew him. His mother said he had modest wants — watching Patriots football games on TV, drinking beer at the bar at Shanghai Garden restaurant in Springfield and spending time by the river.

“He didn’t have much of a life, but he walked around town and walked down to the river, which he loved,” Hanna said.

Her son’s death has left the family reeling.

“I miss worrying about him. I don’t have anything to worry about anymore,” she said. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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