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Hate crime conviction upheld by Supreme Court

CONCORD — The N.H. Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a Belmont man who threatened two Wal-Mart employees in Tilton in 2010 because he thought they were Jewish.

Paul Costella was convicted after a jury trial in 2013 in the Belknap County Superior Court of two counts of criminal threatening and one count of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail — an extended term of punishment because of the N.H. hate crime statute.

The case began on November 29, 2010 when Costella went into the Walmart in Tilton for an oil change. While driving his car into the service bay, one of the victims noticed a photograph of Costella and his daughter standing in front of a red flag with a swastika. In the photo Costella and his daughter were performing a "Heil Hitler" salute.

The woman told Costella she could refuse service to someone with whom she was uncomfortable and Costella asked her if she was Jewish. She replied "what's it to you" or something like that and Costella told her that not enough Jews were killed during WWII. He also asked if she saw his "Jew killing gun" in the car.

The oil change was completed and a second employee returned Costella's car to him while the female victim processed his paper work. When she told him her uncle had been burned alive by the Nazis, he told her that he hoped "that Jew bastard" suffered when he died.

As he left, he said to no one in particular that he was going to his car to get the gun to kill the Jew bitch behind the counter.

When the store manager overheard the conversation he came over and Costella asked him if he was Jewish. The manager didn't respond and Costella said he was going to kill "both you Jews." He restated he had a "Jew killing gun."

The manger called police and Costella was charged with two counts of criminal threatening and disorderly conduct. The N.H. Belknap County Attorney decided to seek enhanced penalties under the hate crime statute and gave Costella notice.

Costella argued that Judge James O'Neill erred when he didn't dismiss the case as a hate crime because the state couldn't prove that either of the two victims were Jewish.

He argued that the hate crime statute (RSA 651:6, I(f)) was only applicable if the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions were motivated by their actual religion.

The court relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding a Wisconsin hate crime statute as one the singles out bias-inspired conduct because this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and social crime. The U.S. ruling said bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes and incite community unrest.

"The specific community here resulting from a hate crime flows from the defendant's bias-motivated actions, rather than the victim's actual status as a member of a protected class," wrote N.H. Supreme Court Associate Justice James Bassett in his opinion.

"Society is harmed by a bias-motivated crime regardless of whether the victim is, in fact, a member of the protected class the defendant has targeted," he continued.

The court also ruled it would be "absurd" for the state to conclusively prove any victim was a member of a specific protected class, asking rhetorically what evidence a jury would use to prove that a person was Jewish or Native American or of mixed race for example.

The court determined that the state had to prove only that Costella was sufficiently motivated to commit the crime because of his hostility toward what he perceived to be the victim's religion.

The four other N.H. Supreme Court justices concurred with the ruling.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 12:53

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Make-believe coyotes doing their job in Meredith parks

MEREDITH — After standing sentinel in Hesky Park and Scenic Park for the past several weeks, mock coyotes have confirmed the adage of the Elizabethean poet John Lyly that "It is the blind goose that cometh to the fox's sermon."

With the parks littered with goose droppings, last month Town Manager Phil Warren proposed and the Board of Selectmen authorized purchasing faux coyotes to frighten the Canada geese away. Altogether the town bought a half-dozen coyotes at $70 apiece. Two have been stolen, but Warren said that four that remain have done their job.

"They work as long as we move them," Warren remarked, explaining that town employees passing by or working in the parks shuffle the coyotes around at least twice a day. Stationed along the shoreline, casting watchful eyes on the water or poised to pounce with teeth bared, the coyotes have confined the geese to the lake. But, said Warren, if the coyotes are left on the same place too long, the geese waddle ashore and circle behind them.

Warren chose the coyotes over several more expensive alternatives, including dogs trained to harass the geese until they leave never to return and devices that produce a sound geese find unnerving costing $1,600 apiece. "There was no appetite for fences and hedges," he said. He recalled that the coyotes were effective in Abington, Massachusetts where he worked before coming to Meredith.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 12:46

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Alton Central educator is N.H. Teacher of the Year

ALTON — Elizabeth Lichtenberg, a fourth grade teacher at Alton Central School, who is the 2015 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, says that she was overwhelmed when she found out at a school assembly yesterday that she had received the honor.
She was interviewed by the selection committee in August but says that she had completely put the honor out of her mind. ''When I didn't hear from anyone I thought that was over,'' said Lichtenberg, who had no idea that yesterday's assembly was being held in her honor.
Students cheered wildly when the award was announced and after the ceremony gathered around her to give her hugs and congratulations.
Lichtenberg has been a part of the Alton community for five years. The selection committee says it recognized her innate ability to develop authentic relationships with her students.
''Her generous and optimistic demeanor welcomes students into the learning environment where she prides herself on providing the individual guidance, motivation, and nurturing each student needs to find success. Elizabeth puts great pride in ensuring the students are having fun, but requires that her students take risks as she makes every effort to facilitate growth and change by working closely with both students and parents. Her efforts in the classroom extend beyond the classroom doors as she connects her community to her classroom through a rich student centered curriculum. Her commitment to her students and their families, her school, and her community are remarkable.'' the committee said in a written announcement of the award.
Lichtenberg, who prefers to be called Liz, wrote in her application, "Each day I work to create an environment where my students feel an ownership over their own learning, make connections, and become intrinsically motivated because they can see how what they are learning and doing makes a difference in their community."
Her former principal, Sydney Leggett, wrote in her letter of recommendation, "Elizabeth Lichtenberg is an exceptional teacher and leader in our community at Alton Central School who inspires children, other teachers, and parents to be and do their best."
Lichtenberg, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, says that she was motivated to become a teacher by her fourth grade teacher, Julie Keifer, who helped develop her passion for writing and reading and was until recently her long-time pen pal.
She began her teaching career in San Diego, California, before moving to New Hampshire and taught in Portsmouth for two years before moving to Alton.
And, while San Diego is said to have an ideal climate, Lichtenberg says that she prefers New Hampshire. ''San Diego is too crowded. I like the open space here and the people are wonderful. Alton Central School is the most amazing school I've ever been in. There are lots of people here who do exactly the same things I do and are equally deserving of this award,'' said Lichtenberg.
She said that because Alton is so big and spread out over so much territory that the school plays a central role in town. ''The school is our community. It's the gathering place for everyone in town,'' says Lichtenberg.
This year is her first year as the Gifted, Talented and Enrichment teacher for Alton Central School and she says that one of the reasons she was considered for the Teacher of the Year award is her willingness to work with everyone.
She and her husband, Aaron, who is a farmer, operate the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm, and raise vegetables at the former John Rogers farm on Hoyt Road in Gilford.
''We farm about one and a half acres and sell our produce at the Thursday night Farmer's Market in Laconia.'' she says.
Lichtenberg becomes New Hampshire's candidate for National Teacher of the Year award. In early December, she and other finalists for the 2015 NH Teacher of the Year will be invited to a "Leadership in Education Banquet" to celebrate their accomplishments along with other distinguished educators in the state.
Hannaford Supermarkets partners with the Department of Education to sponsor the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year program.

CAPTION: teacher of year

Elizabeth Lichtenberg, a teacher at Alton Central School, has been named the 2015 New Ham[shire Teacher of the Year. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 12:38

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Skateboard park will remain open with fewer elements

LACONIA — Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, said yesterday that although several failing elements have been removed from the skateboard park alongside the police station on Fair Street, the park will remain open.

Dunleavy said that time and weather have taken their toll on the wooden elements, some of which have have become unsafe and beyond repair. The original elements were constructed by students of the Huot Technical Center when the skateboard park opened in 2004.

The Parks and Recreation Commission discussed the future of the skateboard park when it met this week and, said Dunleavy, concluded that any further investment in the facility should be to purchase manufactured elements built of precast concrete or sheet metal, which would would be durable and less costly to maintain.

NOTES: After a resident, Josh Youseff, questioned a regulation prohibiting firearms in city parks as contrary to state law, the Parks and Recreation Commission lifted the ban. the rule read that "firearms shall not be used or carried in any manner on park property." Dunleavy said that the city attorney advised the commission that state law trumps municipal ordinances regulating the possession and carrying of firearms and recommended the rule be struck.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:38

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