Thirty years after a same-sex couple from New Hampshire were tied up and stabbed to death in their apartment, the last of two defendants was sentenced to 12 to 40 years in prison on Wednesday for the slayings.
With photos of the women on display in the courtroom and relatives looking on, Anthony Barnaby, a member of the Mi'kmaq tribe in Canada, accepted what is called an Alford plea in the deaths of Charlene Ranstrom, 48, and Brenda Warner, 32.
Barnaby, who had been extradited from the Canadian reservation, was due to go on trial for the fourth time on two counts of second-degree murder. But the two sides agreed to the rarely used plea, in which the 51-year-old Barnaby professes his innocence but acknowledges the evidence in the case could persuade a jury of his guilt.
Judge Jacalyn Colburn, in accepting the plea, said she recognized the challenges facing the state including the lack of DNA evidence linking Barnaby to the killings as well as the fact that several witnesses were either dead or had relocated to Canada. She also said she was thinking of the family, whose "desire to bring closure to this and put this tragedy to rest is three decades overdue."
"Mr. Barnaby, the depravity of your actions and certainly of your co-defendant exhibits an extreme indifference to the value of human life specifically to the lives of Charlene Ranstrom and Brenda Warner," Colburn told the court. "Those two women did not deserve to be treated the way they were. They were threatened in the weeks and days leading up to their murders and they certainly didn't deserve to have their lives end in the fashion with which they did."
Prosecutors allege Barnaby and his co-defendant, David Caplin, stormed into the same-sex couple's Nashua apartment, repeatedly stabbed them before tying them up and fleeing. Tensions had been building for weeks between the women and Barnaby, who threatened to kill them over their sexual orientation as well as the fact that one of them was set to testify against a friend of his accused of stealing cable services.
Three trials ended without a verdict and prosecutors initially decided not to seek a four trial. But with the help of modern DNA techniques and new witnesses who linked the men to the killings, prosecutors brought fresh charges in 2011. Caplin pleaded guilty in February and received 20 to 40 years in prison. He agreed to testify against Barnaby.
Several of Warner's relatives spoke at the hearing — Ranstrom's only remaining relative died last year. Wiping away tears, they recalled how the killings had left them heartbroken and how they still found it hard to comprehend anyone could kill the women in such a brutal fashion. They talked of the burning anger they had against Barnaby — calling him a monster at one point and suggesting he didn't deserve a proper burial. But another said she hoped Barnaby would come out of prison a better man.
The plea, they said, would finally allow them to move on with their lives knowing that Barnaby was paying a price for his crimes.
"It's been a long time coming," Amy Boisvert, a niece of Warner who was 8 at the time of the killings, said. "Like I said in there, time served didn't matter at this point. What mattered was the conviction and being held responsible for what they did. That is what we wanted."
Wearing a dress shirt and slacks and sporting a grey ponytail, Barnaby responded to the judge's questions with mostly yes and no answers. He never acknowledged the family and stared straight ahead when they were speaking.
One of his lawyers, Mark Sisti, said Barnaby felt "elated" with the plea since this resolves the case and most likely means he could one day return to his Quebec reservation. Barnaby had spent about 2,700 days in jails in Canada and the U.S. awaiting trial.
"He needed a number. He needed a resolution. He needed finality, certainty," Sisti said. "Remember this was an individual who had been wallowing around in jail cells in Canada and the United States having not been convicted of anything. ... He had done an awful lot of time for not being convicted."
Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell said the plea ensures the family will not have to endure yet another trial and the risk that comes with it. "This is a very good resolution that helps resolves this case ... and brings closure to the victim's family," she said.