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Robarge Seeks New Trial in Wife’s Murder

  • Public defense attorney Caroline Smith introduces her client James Robarge to potential jurists in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, N.H., Jan. 5, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 4/12/2017 12:25:35 AM
Modified: 4/12/2017 10:18:24 AM

Concord — A lawyer representing a Charlestown man convicted of killing his wife argued for a new trial before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

James Robarge, 47, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on a second-degree murder charge for killing his wife, Kelly, in June 2013. He contends that during his 2015 trial, state prosecutors did not prove that the cellphone record analysis they used to place him at the scene of the crime was reliable.

Robarge, through his lawyer Tuesday, said prosecutors did not show the trial court whether the methodology of a Maine State Police detective who analyzed his cellphone records was accurate.

During Robarge’s trial in Sullivan County Superior Court in January 2015, the prosecution presented evidence that Robarge began a fight that ended with him killing Kelly Robarge, 42, just hours after she filed for divorce at a Claremont court.

She was reported missing on June 27, 2013, and her body was found nine days later off an old logging trail off Britton Road in Unity.

Prosecutors used the testimony of Maine State Police Detective David Bolton, who said Robarge’s cellphone records could link him to the crime.

Bolton’s analysis of the phone records puts Robarge near the couple’s Charlestown home at 11 a.m. on the morning of his wife’s disappearance. This conflicts with statements Robarge made that he didn’t arrive home that day until 3 p.m., the appeal says.

In oral arguments at the N.H. Supreme Court Tuesday morning, Robarge’s public defender, Stephanie Hausman, said Bolton’s methodology involved creating pie-slice-like sectors using records from cellphone towers, antennas and other sources to approximate where Robarge’s cellphone was at a given time.

His analysis placed Robarge within a two-tenths of a mile strip inside the sector, she said.

But she said prosecutors did not prove that this methodology, which Bolton learned from the FBI’s cellular analysis survey team (CAST), was accurate and reliable. The only testing of the method’s reliability has been conducted by the FBI itself, she said.

The federal agency has not revealed the results of its testing, according to Hausman.

“What we don’t understand is whether cellphones accurately can indicate where a device is without using GPS,” she said.

Hausman acknowledged that courts have admitted “generalized” testimony about cellphone tower record analysis. But she said they do so because this information does not “over-promise the precision of the location opinion.” Bolton’s methodology went further and did just that, she said.

She also argued there are examples showing that the cellphone record analysis is potentially unreliable.

At one point, it showed Robarge at two different locations over a period of four minutes “where it was physically impossible for him to have traveled that distance,” she said.

“There were some reasons to believe that the data here couldn’t have been reliable and therefore that the methodology wasn’t reliable,” she said.

Assistant state Attorney General Sean R. Locke argued that the methodology Bolton used to analyze the records was, “at its core,” based on radio frequency technology that has been well studied and documented.

Bolton also explained during the trial that his analysis was an approximation and “not an absolute,” according to Locke.

In a brief filed in response to Robarge’s appeal, Locke wrote that “... the methodology used by CAST and taught to Bolton has been accepted as reliable and admissible in courts across the country.”

Locke also noted that aside from Bolton’s testimony, the state has “overwhelming” evidence of Robarge’s guilt.

This evidence includes a neighbor of Kelly Robarge’s who reported hearing a man and a woman fighting at the Robarge house on the day of Kelly Robarge’s disappearance, signs of a fight at the home and Kelly Robarge’s blood, which was found on James Robarge’s clothes, shoes and in the trunk of his car, according to Locke.

Hausman’s argument before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday focused on the prosecution’s use of cellphone records, but in the appeal brief she submitted with the court in July, she details other pieces of evidence and testimony the trial court admitted that she contends could have prejudiced the jury.

The court allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence that Robarge has a tattoo of a heart on his torso that reads, “Love Kills Slowly,” over the defense’s objection that it was “not relevant,” according to the appeal.

The state argued the evidence was relevant because Robarge had a fresh scratch going through the tattoo, the appeal says.

However, Hausman says in the appeal that the state could have edited out the details of Robarge’s tattoo and presented only an image of his injuries.

The court also admitted testimony — to which the defense objected — that Robarge had threatened to kill his wife over a haircut she received a year or two before she disappeared, the appeal says.

According to the testimony of Kelly Robarge’s friend Eiron Kimball, cited in the appeal, James Robarge allegedly told his wife “that he was going to kill (her) because her hair had been cut too short.”

The defense argued that there was no “logical connection” between the crimes with which Robarge had been charged and this alleged threat, Hausman wrote.

In Locke’s response to the appeal, he wrote that the jury heard other “very emotional evidence” detailing other instances in which Robarge allegedly threatened his wife.

“Thus, any prejudice did not so overwhelm the jury that it would decide the case on improper grounds,” he wrote.

Now that the state Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in Robarge’s case, judges will write an opinion on the matter. Opinions are typically issued within four months of hearing oral arguments, according to the court’s website.

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