EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 23, 2013

Verdicts set aside in Pelham road rage case

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune,com

---- — Credibility concerns involving a Pelham police officer prompted a judge to set aside guilty verdicts against a Windham man convicted of running down a motorcyclist.

Judge Jacalyn Coburn dropped verdicts against Cody Eller, 20, in Hillsborough County Superior Court last week after the prosecution failed to notify his attorney before the trial that Officer Eugene Stahl was on the state’s “Laurie list.”

Eller was convicted in November on second-degree and reckless conduct charges in connection with a crash May 13, 2011, on Windham Road in Pelham. Police have said it was one of the worst cases of road rage they had seen.

Eller was charged with nearly forcing William Hawksley, 45, of Brentwood off the road before his Ford Fusion collided with the Kawasaki motorcycle, seriously injuring the man’s right leg.

Eller could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Jeffrey Kaye, said he and his client felt justice had been served.

“I’m thankful the judge made the right decision — so is Cody Eller,” Kaye said. “This case deserves dismissal.”

Eller faced up to seven years in state prison and a $4,000 fine on each charge. He was acquitted of first-degree assault, punishable by seven and half to 15 years in prison.

When arrested, Eller told Stahl, “I wasn’t going to let him pass me,” according to police. Stahl testified against Eller at his trial.

No sentencing date for Eller was set after prosecutors notified Kaye — days after the conviction — that Stahl’s name was on a list of New Hampshire law enforcement officers whose credibility could become an issue if asked to testify in court.

The list of officers is sealed, Kaye said. Reasons for placing an officer on the list include misconduct and lying on the stand.

“If there is someone on the Laurie list, they have to be mentioned to the defense right up front, “Kaye said. “We assumed there were no Laurie issues.”

The list originated in the 1990s after a murder case was overturned when the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors neglected to reveal evidence about a police officer who testified. It has not been publicly disclosed why Stahl is on the list.

Each of the state’s county attorneys compiles its own list of officers, according to Kaye, who said it leads to inconsistency in how cases are handled.

He questions why prosecutors didn’t notify him before the trial.

“They had three county attorneys and they didn’t know he was on the list?” Kaye said. “I think it’s an obligation of the office to realize he was on the Laurie list. This case deserves dismissal.”

Kaye said the case has been tough on the 20-year-old and his family, both emotionally and financially.

He said it would be an injustice if prosecutors seek a new trial. Neither Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance nor Assistant County Attorney Kent Smith could be reached for comment.

“It’s a huge rain cloud over his head,” Kaye said of Eller. “We believe he’s innocent. If we have to retry that, we hope to prove that.”

Stahl’s attorney, Catherine Costanzo, said she could not comment on her client’s role in the case, nor why he is on the Laurie list. She did say no evidence has been presented that indicates anything the 12-year Pelham officer has done in the past would affect the Eller case.

“I do not want people to rush judgment because an officer is placed on the Laurie List,” she said.

Pelham police Lt. Gary Fisher said the department could not comment on the case, referring all questions to the county attorney’s office. Hawksley could not be reached for comment.