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Jim Kenyon: Hanover shooting suspect still behind bars nearly a year later, without trial

  • Gage Young, of Lebanon, appeared with Public Defender Jamie Brooks, right, in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., to plead not guilty to charges including second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and falsifying physical evidence Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. Gage is accused of shooting of an 18-year-old Providence College student in Hanover, N.H., Friday night. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 9/28/2019 10:05:26 PM
Modified: 9/28/2019 10:05:24 PM

Gage Young entered the Grafton County jail in North Haverhill 329 days ago. He’s spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and his 23rd birthday behind bars.

How can someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime remain locked up for nearly 11 months?

It’s called pretrial detention. Or in newspaper vernacular: held without bail.

At the urging of Grafton County prosecutors, Superior Court Judge Lawrence MacLeod has twice denied Young’s requests to be released pending trial into his parents’ custody and on electronic monitoring.

Young, a 2014 Lebanon High School graduate, is accused of randomly firing a handgun from a car on the night of Nov. 2, 2018, in Hanover. Providence College student Thomas Elliott, who was walking with friends on School Street, was struck with a bullet in his lower back.

Prosecutors allege Young was a passenger in a car driven by then-17-year-old Hector Correa. Young maintains that it was Correa who fired the shot that wounded Elliott, a Massachusetts resident who was visiting Dartmouth for the weekend.

In an Aug. 2 ruling, MacLeod noted that Young didn’t have a criminal record, but he was “not convinced” that electronic monitoring and releasing Young to his parents would alone ensure public safety.

Judges often fall back on the it’s-a-matter-of-public-safety argument when denying bail. But it can be a smokescreen.

Frequently, they’re just doing prosecutors a favor.

A defendant who is locked up awaiting trial can be more easily squeezed into accepting a plea deal. Nationally, more than 90% of criminal cases end with defendants pleading guilty ahead of trial in exchange for reduced charges.

It’s in the best interests of prosecutors and judges to have cases settled through pretrial negotiations. The U.S. criminal justice system would collapse under its own weight if too many defendants insisted on going to trial.

To get an idea of how overwhelmed New Hampshire’s court system is, you just needed to be at the Grafton County courthouse last Wednesday morning when MacLeod was scheduled to preside over 62 final pretrial hearings involving 50 defendants.

Meanwhile at the county jail, conveniently located next to the courthouse, 33 of the 60 inmates were pretrial detainees when I checked on Thursday.

Pretrial detention is a “pretty effective tool,” criminal defense attorney George Ostler said when I talked with him at the courthouse. “Pretrial time is hard on a defendant.”

It can also make winning a defendant’s case more challenging. In a 1972 case, Barker v. Wingo, the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out that a person detained pretrial is “hindered in his ability to gather evidence, contact witnesses, or otherwise prepare his defense.”

In 2018, the Harvard Law Review reported that the U.S. had just over 4% of the world’s population, but almost 20% of the world’s pretrial jail population.

In the same article, the publication said, “Pretrial detention results in worse case outcomes and has a criminogenic effect on people — that is, detaining someone pretrial makes that person more likely to commit a crime in the future.”

A New Hampshire corrections official once described jail to me as “crime school.” Young men, in particular, who are forced to live in cages can get caught up in an environment that doesn’t lend itself to staying on the straight and narrow when they get out.

And as Tom Elliott, superintendent of the Grafton County jail, aptly pointed out when we talked last week: Nine out of 10 inmates eventually are released.

New Hampshire lawmakers have tried in recent years to reduce the number of pretrial detainees. The state has enacted measures to make it easier for people — mostly those charged with misdemeanors — to be released while awaiting trial. Many previously were held due to an inability to pay bail.

Taxpayers also benefit from bail reform. It costs about $175 a day to keep an inmate locked up at the Grafton County jail. By my math, that means taxpayers have already spent $57,575 on making sure Young isn’t allowed back on the streets pending trial.

“Bail reform is a huge piece in ending mass incarceration,” Jeanne Hruska, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Hampshire chapter, told me. “The (U.S.) system of justice is based on the presumption of innocence, yet a person can be detained for months, even years, without a conviction.”

That’s looking more and more to be the case with Young. He faces several felony charges, including assault with a firearm and reckless conduct.

In an unrelated case, Young was indicted in Cheshire County in April on an armed robbery charge for allegedly robbing a drug dealer in Keene.

Serious stuff. But in the 2018 article I mentioned earlier, the Harvard Law Review wrote that it’s important to remember that at the pretrial stage, “prosecutors can overcharge with impunity because probable cause is a low burden of proof, and prosecutors are free to amend or drop the charges later.”

Young has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

While Young has been sitting in jail, Correa, who turned 18 in August, got into more legal trouble in Connecticut. He was arrested on charges that he was behind the wheel in a drive-by shooting in Bridgeport, Conn.

With Young just where they want him, Grafton County prosecutors have been working to make a deal with Correa. Court records indicate that prosecutors have discussed giving Correa a deal that could lead to less jail time in exchange for his cooperation in the case against Young.

Grafton County Attorney Marcie Hornick, who was elected in November, said she can’t discuss ongoing cases. Young’s attorney, Richard Guerriero, of Keene, told me the same.

In New Hampshire, along with arguing that a defendant is a flight risk, prosecutors can play the public safety card. Judges are often willing to go along, partly because they don’t want to open themselves up to public scrutiny if a defendant runs afoul of the law while out on bail.

I asked Hornick how her office decides which defendants could pose a danger to the community if they’re released on bail. Prosecutors base their decisions mostly on what police tell them, she said.

I wanted to learn a little more about Young than what I’d read in court documents. His dad, a former police officer, politely declined to talk with me, referring questions to Guerriero.

I stopped by the Carter Community Building Association’s drop-in youth center in downtown Lebanon. Jim Vanier, the center’s coordinator, has been such a positive influence on Lebanon kids for the last 40 years the CCBA named the center’s gym after him in June.

Young was among the kids that Vanier has looked out for over the years.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him to work with kids in this building,” Vanier told me. “I never had a problem with him. He was always respectful.

“I just can’t believe he hasn’t been released on bail. They’re treating him like a monster.”

Later, I knocked on Kevin Talcott’s office door down the street at the CCBA’s Witherell Recreation Center. Young had worked in the fitness department at the nonprofit where Talcott is the recreation director.

Like Vanier, Talcott said he wouldn’t hesitate to welcome Young back.

“The last I knew, Gage was on a good track,” said Talcott, who had heard that Young had finished barbering school.

K.J. Matte and Young were teammates on the Lebanon High varsity basketball team. Young spent a fair amount of time at Matte’s house. (Kieth Matte, K.J.’s dad, is Lebanon High’s coach.)

K.J. Matte, who is now on the basketball team at Bowdoin College, has written a couple of letters to Young since he was incarcerated. This summer, Young called him.

“He’s trying to remain optimistic, but I think it’s been hard on him,” Matte said.

In high school, Young went through a “few tough periods, particularly with alcohol,” Matte recalled. “But he always bounced back. He was someone I looked up to.”

Since Young’s arrival at the Grafton County jail, he hasn’t had any major disciplinary issues, Elliott told me.

“He’s been a model inmate,” said Elliott, who is of no relation to the victim in Young’s case.

I know arguing that Young doesn’t deserve to remain locked up while awaiting trial probably won’t sit well with plenty of people. Young is charged with a violent gun crime, which in the minds of law-and-order types warrants keeping him off the streets even before he’s had his day in court.

The victim in the case was in the courtroom with his family on Wednesday. I hoped to talk with him after the hearing, but his family wouldn’t allow it.

It’s fair for folks to ask why I find Young’s pretrial detention so egregious.

A shooting that involved a young man in neighboring Sullivan County a month after Young’s arrest is a big reason.

Jordan Richardson, 18, was charged with shooting two teenagers with a .22-caliber handgun in a drug deal gone bad in Newport. One of the victims was shot in the chest, causing life-threatening and lasting injuries.

Richardson, who lives in Goshen, N.H., was charged with multiple felonies. Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway pushed for Richardson to remain locked up pending trial for public safety reasons.

Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker, however, didn’t take the easy way out. He released Richardson, who didn’t have a criminal record, on his own recognizance.

For nine months while his case made its way through the court system, Richardson, who was also represented by Guerriero, remained free. On Sept. 18, Richardson pleaded guilty to three felonies, including two counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, which is among the charges that Young also faces. Tucker sentenced Richardson to two years behind bars.

He’ll serve his time at the Sullivan County jail as opposed to the New Hampshire State Prison, which is not the kind of place where many young men come out better than when they went in.

The judge said he took into account Richardson’s age and the fact he didn’t have a previous criminal record. Richardson also was ordered to pay up to $33,800 in restitution to one of his victims to cover uninsured medical expenses.

Young is scheduled to go to trial in late October. By that time, he will have spent nearly a year in jail.

In theory, Young will still have the presumption of innocence on his side at trial. But it’s difficult to see how that guiding principle of America’s criminal justice system wasn’t lost the moment a judge denied him bail.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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