October 30, 2013LANCASTER — After some three hours of deliberation on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 23, the jury returned a verdict that found Craig Sanborn, a 64-year-old Groveton native who lives in Maidstone, guilty of two counts of negligent homicide and two counts of manslaughter in the sudden deaths of two local men — Jesse Kennett and Donald Kendall — in an explosion on May 14, 2010. The men were employed as $10-an-hour machine tenders at Sanborn's Black Mag black powder substitute plant on Gould Street in Colebrook.
County attorney John McCormick of Lancaster and defense attorney Mark Sisti of Chichester each presented hour-long closing arguments, starting at 9 that morning to conclude the lengthy trial that began on Sept 30 with Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein presiding.
Prosecutor McCormick used a PowerPoint presentation to remind the jury of the main conclusions that he believed they should be able to draw from 14 days of testimony from some 50 witnesses.
The defendant had recklessly ignored the risks, he said, arguing that "the explosions and fire were inevitable since it was a gross deviation from the actions of a reasonable, law-abiding person" to fail to use remote operating procedures, proper storage, separate bunkering arrangements for each machine, eliminate ignition sources and to conduct a hazard analysis. His motive was greed, McCormick explained. "He sought to preserve a contract with ATK-FCC at the cost of his employees' lives, choosing to shortchange safety instead of re-negotiating an existing contract and disregarding safety in order to maximize gain," the county attorney said. Black Mag employees received no training and no safety policies or procedures were developed.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney Sisti touched on some testimony provided over the previous two days by witnesses for the defense. He challenged the jury to consider what the prosecution had not brought forward, including a medical expert who could discuss the autopsy reports of the two men killed in the explosion, one of whom was impaired. Sisti emphasized that Sanborn had been 800 miles away in North Carolina at the time of the explosion and that no one has been able to establish exactly how the explosion took place, possibly because of an inadequate investigation by authorities. Sisti said the explosion could have been caused by employee error, a stray piece of metal that created friction inside a machine, or a machine that was running too fast, as possibly indicated by a dial found in the explosion debris. Furthermore, the defense lawyer said that there was no evidence had been presented that implied that his client's state of mind included his intent to commit a criminal act.
McCormick said after the verdict that he and assistant county attorney were pleased the jury had come back with guilty verdicts and that justice was done for the victims' families.
Sisti said he was disappointed in the verdict and expects to file an appeal.
Sanborn spent that night at the county jail in West Stewartstown before he could post a $250,000 bail bond on Thursday, Oct. 24.
Tom Brady of Jefferson, who chairs the Coös County board of commissioners, said that he was pleased that county attorney John McCormick had "done the county proud." He thanked his fellow commissioners as well as the county delegation for standing firm on spending the dollars necessary to secure the services of expert witnesses to secure justice for the families of the two Coös residents killed in the May 2010 explosion.
County commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin said that he had been "ecstatic" when he learned the verdict. "When the state and federal governments turned down the county's request for help in prosecuting this case involving the deaths of two Coös residents, our county attorney rolled up his sleeves, took on all obstacles, and presented a powerful case, " Grenier explained. "It's a real feather in his cap, and it makes him a very credible force for justice here in Coös. I'm very proud of his work and that of his assistant Stephen Murray."