NASHUA, N.H. – We know a lot about Steven Spader, but unless a motion to unseal new court documents succeeds, some of the most vital information to understanding Spader’s gruesome crimes may never see the light of day.It’s been more than three years since the now 21-year-old Spader led a group of small-town teenagers into Kimberly Cates’ Mont Vernon bedroom, hacked her to death with the help of Christopher Gribble and viciously attacked then-11-year-old Jaimie Cates.We’ve learned a lot about Spader since then. We learned he was adopted as an infant by loving parents, that he was afforded a blessed childhood. He was in the Boy Scouts. He went on vacations. He enjoyed acting in plays at one of the best high schools in the country in Hollis.He was gleeful after the slaying, bragging and jubilant – like he was on an adrenalin high, according to testimony. He talked about robbing, torturing and killing people. He wanted to found the Disciples of Destruction, a criminal syndicate of sorts to carry out his twisted fantasies. When he got a chance, he attacked like a wild man – hacking over and over with abandon using a machete, according to Gribble’s testimony at his own trial.
But he wasn’t just a mindless psychotic. We learned from court documents and during the 2010 trial how he meticulously, if clumsily, planned the Oct. 4, 2009, murder. He researched chloroform. He secured weapons for himself and his friends. He made sure they brought a change of clothing and didn’t drink or do drugs the night of the deed. He enlisted others to help dispose of, again badly, some evidence, including a jewelry box and an old wallet, that was later found in the Nashua River, according to testimony.
We learned only recently that when he was caught, he tried to strike a deal with prosecutors. But he wouldn’t plead guilty to anything having to do with Jaimie Cates. Prosecutors think he knew how inmates look on child attackers. He wanted to serve his sentence as far north as possible. Prosecutors say that was part of some muddled plan to create a criminal enterprise inside and out of the prison walls that would eventually fund his escape. Being closer to the Canadian border would make that easier. He calculated.
But the pieces don’t add up. Steven Spader was normal. Until he wasn’t.
Spader has talked to psychiatrists during his first few years in New Hampshire State Prison for Men’s Special Housing Unit, one as recently as December. He repeated then that he doesn’t regret his crimes. To him, remorse is “not useful,” he said, according to prosecutors.
Then there’s the apology. His lawyers read it in court during a second sentencing hearing – one necessitated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that minors cannot receive mandatory life without parole sentences.
Ostensibly, Spader took responsibility for what he did. He said he refused to argue for a lesser sentence because that would be getting by on a technicality. Prosecutors called that “clearly disingenuous.” David Cates, Kimberly’s husband, called it “insulting.”
Spader, though his court appointed attorneys, argues that state’s own sentencing memorandum, which included psychiatrists’ evaluations and findings and depositions of his mother and father, should be secret. The state filed the memorandum under seal at their request.
The Telegraph of Nashua and the New Hampshire Union Leader filed motions to unseal the documents arguing the public’s right to know outweighs Spader’s right to privacy. His lawyers argued in motions that the memorandum is equivalent to a pre-sentencing investigation, which are sealed. Unsealing the documents, they argue, would make it more difficult for investigators to glean honest and open testimony from defendants and others in future pre-sentencing investigations.
The paper’s argument is simple.
New Hampshire residents deserve to know, have a vested interest in knowing, what happened to Steven Spader. They need to know, to whatever extent possible, what makes him think what he thinks and why he did what he did.
These were normal boys. They were in the drama club and Boy Scouts. They went to parties and had girlfriends and watched movies with their parents.
And then they turned into a mob, a ruthless and murderous killing team and planned to strike again.
The death of Kimberly Cates had an impact beyond her wide circle of family, friends and co-workers. It also shook the region. Gun sales increased. Some people couldn’t watch the news. Others couldn’t stop. Strangers packed the gallery during Spader and Gribble’s trials. Mothers and fathers began locking their proverbial front doors for the first time.
Steven Spader harmed more people than he dreamed he could. And while that harm pales in any way to what was done to the Cates family, harm it is.
People deserve to know.
Joseph G. Cote is a staff writer for The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H.