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Elderly Newport shooting suspect to be transferred to nursing home

  • Kenneth Rickard, 80, of Newport, N.H., glances at prosecutor Justin Hersh, right, as Rickard leaves with his attorney Gary Apfel following his hearing in Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Sept. 9, 2019. Judge Brian Tucker ruled Rickard can be transferred to the Sullivan County Nursing Home as he awaits trial on charges he fired a gun at his caregiver earlier this summer. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Kenneth Rickard, 80, of Newport, N.H., wore sunglasses through a portion of his hearing in Superior Court in Newport on Sept. 9, 2019. While being held awaiting trail, Rickard had fallen roughly eight times in jail since his incarceration, with one of the falls resulting in head trauma and another resulting in a dislocated hip, his attorney said. (Rick Russell photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2019 3:40:14 PM
Modified: 9/10/2019 7:48:39 AM

NEWPORT — A Superior Court judge on Monday ruled that an 80-year-old Newport man can be transferred to the Sullivan County Nursing Home as he awaits trial on charges he fired a gun at his caregiver earlier this summer.

The attorney for Kenneth Rickard, who has been held without bail at the Sullivan County House of Corrections since July 1, argued he is in failing health and can’t remain safely inside the jail in Unity. Defense attorney Gary Apfel asked Judge Brian Tucker to allow his client to go to the nursing home, which is in the same complex as the jail, in the interim.

“I’m concerned if he is not transferred, he is going to die in that facility,” Apfel said during Rickard’s bail hearing on Monday. Rickard, who uses a wheelchair that he can’t propel, has fallen roughly eight times in jail since his incarceration, with one of the falls resulting in head trauma and another resulting in a dislocated hip, Apfel said. “I think this is an appropriate request.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Sullivan County Attorney Justin Hersh said the nursing home is not a secure facility, and that Rickard is a danger to himself and others.

“It’s hard listening to Mr. Rickard right now. From an empathetic standpoint, you want to be able to do what is right for somebody,” Hersh said. “I also have a responsibility to the community and (the alleged victim).”

Rickard, who made audible breathing noises throughout the hearing, leaned in and spoke a few words to his attorney, some of which Apfel said he understood, but others of which he didn’t.

Though he didn’t fault the staff there, Tucker said it is “detrimental” to Rickard’s own safety to have him remain at the house of corrections. The alleged victim in the case is the main person whose safety is at question, the judge said, adding that there were conditions he could put in place to help with that.

Tucker ordered Rickard not to leave the nursing home and to have no contact with the alleged victim, who lived in the Rickard home. He also can’t possess a firearm.

Rickard allegedly fired a handgun at the 48-year-old woman on July 1 because he was jealous that she might have a new boyfriend, according to police. The caregiver, whom Rickard paid in beer and cigarettes, according to his wife, was not harmed.

Rickard earlier this summer pleaded not guilty to felony charges of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and criminal threatening with a deadly weapon. He is on a case track to head to trial as early as December.

But there appears to be some question about whether his case will make it that far. Apfel said this is one of the most difficult cases he has handled in his career.

“I’ve got to say that in this case, I don’t know whether Mr. Rickard is competent or not,” he said.

When first speaking with Rickard after his July arrest, Apfel said Rickard appeared to understand what was going on. Since then, however, Apfel said he hasn’t been able to communicate with Rickard very well. A doctor has diagnosed Rickard with palsy, a condition that comes with “some element of dementia or confusion,” according to Apfel’s motion for bail filed last month.

For his own safety, Rickard has remained in isolation at the jail, and Apfel questioned whether his mental status could have deteriorated from lack of stimulation. Rickard also appears to be malnourished, according to doctors who examined him after a fall at the jail, Apfel said in court. Those doctors also said they have seen “a dramatic decline” in Rickard’s “health status,” Apfel said.

“It is extremely difficult for Mr. Rickard to say more than a word or two. … What he does say, I generally can’t understand,” Apfel said during Monday’s hearing. “My impression is there is a working mind trapped in a body that can’t communicate. But I can’t say that for certain.”

Apfel hasn’t asked for a competency evaluation, which would ultimately determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial or not. Because that isn’t the track the case is taking right now, Hersh, who also called the situation “difficult,” said he must proceed like he would in any other ongoing case.

Hersh argued during the hearing that the shots Rickard allegedly fired at the caregiver outside of his Springfield Road home weren’t the first time he is accused of assaulting the woman and that Rickard had been driving as late as February of this year.

As Hersh recounted to the judge what was alleged to have occurred on July 1, Rickard, who wore dark sunglasses, shook his head. At times, he slapped his hand on the table in front of him.

While issuing his ruling, Tucker said “it is possible that his isolation (at the jail) has contributed to his declining mental status, as represented by (Apfel).” Perhaps in a different environment, such as the nursing home, his mental status will change, Tucker said.

Rickard’s wife, Nancy, who also uses a wheelchair, was in the gallery on Monday.

Rickard has a final pretrial hearing slated for November.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.




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