SALEM — A fourth judge will be called in to hear the firearms case against Danville police Chief Wade Parsons, whose gun was used by a teenage boy to commit suicide.
After several delays, Judge Robert Stephen was to finally hear arguments Tuesday afternoon in 10th Circuit Court. But just as the hearing was to begin, Stephen recused himself from the case because of a conflict, postponing it once again.
The longtime Salem judge suddenly stepped down because he realized he was too familiar with the attorneys handling the case, possibly affecting his impartiality, according to Assistant County Attorney Terri Harrington.
A judge from outside Rockingham County will be asked to hear the case, she said. A court clerk said the hearing will be rescheduled within the next few days.
Parsons, 55, was at the court Tuesday but not in the courtroom. He has pleaded not guilty in connection with the death March 11, 2013, of his girlfriend’s 15-year-old son, Jacob Carver.
The teen shot and killed himself with the 20-year chief’s service revolver, which had been left unsecured in a bedroom closet at the chief’s home on Caramel Drive in Danville.
Parsons said he left his home that afternoon to run errands. The Timberlane Regional High School freshman’s body was found near the closet shortly after 7 p.m. that day.
Parsons, re-elected as chief in March, faces a charge of negligent storage of a firearm. The violation is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 but no jail time. He has refused to discuss the case.
His attorney, Alan Cronheim, has asked that the charge be dropped, but the request was denied earlier this year. Cronheim confirmed Tuesday that the case had been postponed but declined to elaborate.
Stephen was the third judge to handle the case after Judge Sharon DeVries of 10th Circuit Court in Plaistow recused herself nearly a year ago.
DeVries agreed to step down at Harrington’s request after Parsons made an unexpected appearance at a pretrial hearing in August 2013, prompting the judge to tell him she was “surprised.”
DeVries also said she had “known Chief Parsons as the Danville police chief for as long as (she) has been on the bench,” according to Harrington’s court motion.
Harrington claimed that DeVries’ response and relationship with Parsons indicated she could not be impartial when hearing the case.
A court clerk said at the time that the case would be heard by a judge outside Rockingham County to avoid a potential conflict. Instead, the case was transferred to Judge Michael Sullivan at Circuit Court in Salem.
The case was on hold for several months after Sullivan asked the attorneys in October to provide additional information on how the state firearms law under which Parsons was charged, 650-C:1, had been applied in past cases.
The law states “any person who stores or leaves on premises under that person’s control a loaded firearm, and who knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or guardian, is guilty of a violation if a child gains access to a firearm ... .”
Cronheim has said the law should not apply to Parsons because the teen chose to kill himself.
The case was recently transferred from Sullivan to Stephen, but the reason not disclosed. When the case was postponed Tuesday, a court clerk would only say that Sullivan was “not available” to hear the case.
The only member of the public sitting in the courtroom Tuesday was Jacob’s father, Jeffrey Carver, who hung his head while waiting for the hearing to begin.
Minutes later, Stephen requested a five-minute recess and never returned after deciding to recuse himself. Carver quickly left and was unavailable for comment.
Carver supported Parsons’ opponent, Danville police Sgt. Ryan Furman, in the March election and campaigned for him outside the polls.
His ex-wife and Parsons’ girlfriend, Debbie Carver, campaigned for the chief. She has said Parsons was not responsible for her son’s death.