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Sentence reduced for man in Lebanon crash that killed couple, unborn child

  • Robert Dellinger is flanked by his attorneys Lucy Karl and Steve Gordon while his sentence is read by the judge in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H. on April. 2, 2015. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2020 9:30:24 PM
Modified: 8/8/2020 9:30:22 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — Nearly seven years ago, Robert Dellinger drove his pickup truck across the Interstate 89 median in Lebanon and crashed head-on into an SUV, killing a young couple and their unborn daughter.

Since 2014, the former corporate executive has been in prison for the crash, suffering from multiple sclerosis that has worsened during his time locked away.

Now, a superior court judge has reduced 60-year-old Dellinger’s minimum sentence by one year, calling the series of events that landed the Sunapee man in prison “one of the most tragic matters” he has ever encountered.

In a July 20 order, Grafton Superior Court Judge Lawrence MacLeod suspended one year of Dellinger’s minimum nine-year sentence, meaning the 60-year-old will be eligible for parole next February, rather than February 2022.

In his order, MacLeod cited Dellinger’s good behavior while in prison, as well as his poor health, as reasons for reducing the sentence. Dellinger was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.

“The defendant has accepted full responsibility for the horrible, irreversible crimes he committed and has always done so,” MacLeod wrote. “The court accepts the defendant’s representations that his deteriorating health makes serving his time in prison particularly difficult and increasingly so.”

Prosecutors have said Dellinger was trying to take his own life when he intentionally crossed the median of Interstate 89 between exits 18 and 19 in 2013. He collided head-on with an SUV driven by Amanda Murphy, 24, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Her fiance, Jason Timmons, 29, was a passenger. Both died at the scene, and the baby was stillborn following the crash, according to court documents.

Dellinger pleaded guilty in February 2015 to two counts of negligent homicide for the deaths of Murphy and Timmons and one count of second-degree assault for the death of Murphy’s unborn child. He was given two consecutive 4½- to 10-year sentences for the homicide counts and one suspended sentence for the assault count.

But late last year, Dellinger requested the remaining minimum and maximum sentences suspended as well. In a Dec. 9 motion, his attorney, Cathy Green, wrote that Dellinger has always been “sincerely remorseful” for the crash and that he has tried to be productive during his time in prison, acquiring multiple degrees and undergoing behavioral health and “coping mindfully” classes.

Green also pointed to Dellinger’s physical health, saying that adequate medical care has been difficult for Dellinger to access while in prison and that his multiple sclerosis has “markedly progressed, resulting in a significant deterioration of his physical condition.” She wrote that he began using a cane in 2018 and that he eats meals in his cell because it’s physically difficult for him to get to the dining hall.

“Although there is no cure for his disease, his release from prison will give him a fighting chance to stem the progression of his MS,” Green wrote.

Senior Attorney General Geoffrey Ward disagreed in a January response, writing that “participation in educational programming should not be grounds upon which to alter a sentence,” because many prisoners have an incentive to participate in programming.

He also argued that Dellinger was “under the influence of a controlled drug” at the time of the crash; defense attorney Steven Gordon has said Dellinger was suffering symptoms of withdrawal from Ambien as well as the effects of psychiatric medication prescribed “in excess” at the time of the crash.

In regard to Dellinger’s health, Ward wrote that the only evidence Green provides is anecdotal written testimony from friends and family, not from medical professionals. He said Dellinger’s case is better suited for “medical parole” rather than a reduction of his sentence.

Medical parole in New Hampshire allows an inmate who is in need of treatment to be paroled under conditions that may include periodic medical examinations. If examinations show that the parolee no longer has a debilitating or terminal illness, the parole will be revoked.

Though MacLeod agreed to reduce Dellinger’s minimum sentence, he declined to reduce the maximum sentence. To do so would “undermine the court’s sentencing scheme” and may not be as effective at deterring similar crimes in the future, MacLeod wrote.

A message left for Ward was not returned last week. A representative with Green’s office said they have no comment.

The families of the couple killed by Dellinger settled a lawsuit against him in 2016 for an undisclosed sum.

Messages to Timmons’ and Murphy’s family members were not returned Saturday.

Before Dellinger had to give up his corporate career in 2011 because of his MS symptoms, he had been the CFO at PPG Industries Inc. in Pittsburgh and held top positions at Sprint, Delphi and General Electric.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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