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Sunday, March 27, 2011

At her attacker’s sentencing, 12-year-old victim looks on

N.H. judge gives defendant life in prison with no chance of parole

Jaimie Cates and her father, David Cates, sat in Hillsborough County Superior Court after the sentencing of Christopher Gribble, in Nashua, N.H. Gribble, who admitted he took part in a machete and knife attack on Jamie and her mother, was convicted of murder. (Don Himsel/AP) Jaimie Cates and her father, David Cates, sat in Hillsborough County Superior Court after the sentencing of Christopher Gribble, in Nashua, N.H. Gribble, who admitted he took part in a machete and knife attack on Jamie and her mother, was convicted of murder.

NASHUA — Twelve-year-old Jaimie Cates slipped silently into the courtroom yesterday to witness the sentencing of the man who murdered her mother and tried to kill her almost two years ago.

Cates, who was stabbed 18 times and lost part of her foot during the attack, watched quietly as a judge told Christopher Gribble that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson then turned to Jaimie, who sat next to her father, David Cates.

“I hope you know that this man and the other men involved in this terrible crime can never hurt you again,’’ Abramson said. “I hope you understand that, and I wish you better days.’’

The verdict and the girl’s surprising appearance capped the last trial in the murder and burglary case that shook Mont Vernon, a town of about 2,400 where Jaimie and her mother, Kimberly Cates, were brutally attacked in their isolated home.

“It will never go back to what it was before,’’ Mont Vernon Police Chief Kyle Aspinwall said after the verdict. “The sense of safety and security the community had has been irreparably damaged.’’

Kimberly Cates, 42, was stabbed 32 times by Gribble and his friend, Steven Spader, who wielded a machete. But it was Gribble who, with a small knife, worked to inflict the most damaging wounds, aiming for Kimberly Cates’s vital organs, then turning on the girl.

Jaimie Cates was on the witness list for both trials but did not want to testify, said Jeff Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general. She did not appear at Spader’s trial and has been shielded from the intense media attention surrounding both trials.

But it was important for her to see the sentencing of the last man tried for her mother’s murder, Strelzin said.

“She wanted to see the defendant taken away,’’ he said.

Spader, 19, and Gribble, 21, were the only men tried for the crimes. In November, Spader was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 76 years. Quinn Glover and William Marks, who were part of the home invasion, each testified for the prosecution during Spader’s trial in exchange for lesser charges.

Glover will be sentenced on April 4. That same day, Marks is expected to plead guilty to several charges, including conspiracy to commit murder.

Gribble was given the same sentence as Spader: life in prison for Kimberly Cates’s murder, 26 years for other charges such as conspiracy to commit murder and burglary, and 50 years to life for the attempted murder of Jaimie Cates. The 50 years amount to “one year for every wound they inflicted on her and her mother,’’ Strelzin said.

Jaimie Cates walked into the Hillsborough County Superior courtroom with no visible limp. She smiled softly at the judge, her long, dark hair framing her face and partially hiding a scar on her cheek, one of the many she has from the attack.

Gribble showed little emotion when the foreman read the verdict after less than two hours of deliberation by the jury.

His lawyers had tried to argue that he was insane, a victim of various mental disorders that became too much for him to control. But prosecutors said that defense was another manipulation by a cunning, remorseless sociopath who knew exactly what he was doing when he helped plan the invasion, then tried to mislead police and hide evidence.

Jaimie entered the courtroom after her father read an emotional statement. David Cates was away on business during the home invasion, but he said both trials have forced him to experience the pain of that night.

“I’ve listened to the accounts of Kim’s murder one excruciating detail after the next, feeling in my body every strike of that machete and every stab of that knife,’’ Cates said.

“I’ve listened to my wife’s last breath. I have listened to my child’s screams. I have watched as Jaimie’s perfect little body was mutilated and tortured.’’

He said he and his daughter will move on, but it will be hard.

“Instead of Jaimie indulging in the joy of picking out her prom dress or stepping in her graduation gown or planning her wedding, my daughter will ache because her mom, her best friend, the most important woman in her life isn’t there beside her,’’ he said.

Jaimie, a seventh-grader, plays several sports, including field hockey, and is as athletic as her mother, who was a runner, Strelzin said.

“She’s not going to let this define her life,’’ said Jennifer Hunt, a victim advocate who has worked with the Cates family.

Last week, she baked the prosecutors chocolate-chip cookies.

“She was concerned about us and how hard we were working,’’ Strelzin said.

The prosecutors kept one cookie and wrapped it in a napkin. They placed it on the prosecution’s table, where it stayed for the duration of the trial, for good luck.

By Maria Cramer



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