'Knockout hand' comments by Langlais ruled admissible

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Eric Langlais confers with defense lawyer Joseph Welsh of Samdperil and Welsh last month during an evidentiary hearing in Strafford County Superior Court. (Rochester Voice photo)

DOVER - A Strafford County judge ruled on Monday that the prosecution in the Eric Langlais manslaughter case is free to reference the defendant's comments to police that he had hit Bang N Jane drummer Jim Unfonak with his "knockout hand."

The ruling was one of two setbacks suffered by the defense in a series of ruling released on Monday by Judge Mark E. Howard.

The much-anticipated jury trial is set to begin in two weeks.

Unfonak died Feb. 1, 2016, after being punched in the head the night before in the parking lot of Gary's Sports Bar.

Bang N Jane with drummer Jim Unfonak was a longtime favorite of the Northern Seacoast.

Langlais, 42, of Barnstead, is charged with manslaughter for causing Unfonak's death by allegedly sucker punching him beneath the chin and faces up to 30 years in prison.

During a hearing on July 27 defense lawyers had sought to preclude the "knockout hand" comments made by Langlais based on the fact that he had not been advised of his rights.

But Assistant County Attorney Tim Sullivan said on Monday that Langlais had not been arrested at that point, so there was no need to "Mirandize" him.

In another win for the prosecution, its motion to preclude expert witnesses, including medical examiners, from testifying for the defense as to the rarity of one-punch deaths was granted.

Defense attorney Joseph Welsh of Samdperil and Welsh had argued during the July 27 hearing that people aren't generally aware a single punch causes death. He said he had two experts with longtime careers in medical examiners' offices who would testify so. He said one said he had never encountered it in all his years of practice, while the other noted only one.

"Recklessness doesn't result from knowledge of dangerousness," argued Sullivan during the hearing, adding that such testimony would just confuse jurors. He also noted the "knockout hand" comment made by Unfonak alluded to his knowledge of its power.

The prosecution, however, did score one victory when Howard denied the prosecution's request to admit evidence to the level of Langlais' intoxication that night, including his own admission made to police.

Whether the prosecution would be allowed to speak to Langlais' alleged belligerency at a Dover bar earlier in the evening prior to going to Gary's Sports bar is unclear.

Also charged in the incident were two local women, sisters Mandy Patch, 37, of Old Milton Road, Rochester; and Laurie Henner, 41, of Whitebirch Lane in Farmington; and another man, Forrest Rollins, 42, of Brook St. Rochester.

Patch reached a plea deal with prosecutors in June 2016, receiving two consecutive 12-month sentences, one for rioting and another for assaulting a woman inside Gary's Sports bar earlier the night of Unfonak's death. The second sentence will be suspended for two years after her first sentence is completed.

Henner was sentenced to up to a year in jail in November for felony riot.

Both sisters actually spent less than a month in jail before being released.

Rollins was charged with simple assault in connection with an altercation inside Gary's Sports Bar the night Unfonak was fatally injured. Arguments during Thursday's hearing confirmed that the victim of that assault was also Unfonak.

Rollins' simple assault charge was reduced to simple assault/mutual combat, a violation in October. He got no jail time, but was ordered to pay a $1,240 fine.

Meanwhile, Langlais' alleged motive for the attack laid out in initial police affidavits paint a night of recrimination, verbal and physical attacks and insults between him and the two sisters, and Unfonak.

In the affidavit it is noted a bouncer at Gary's Sports Bar knew full well that a man and several of his friends were waiting outside the Milton Road tavern waiting to get "a piece" of the popular Bang N Jane drummer.

Unfonak had had words with the man, identified as Langlais and the sisters earlier that evening. All three had been escorted out of the bar but refused to leave the parking lot.

Around 1:30 a.m. early Sunday, Jan. 31, the bouncer ran protection for Unfonak, escorting him from the tavern door to a waiting car in the dirt parking lot.

Unfonak was almost inside the car, but as he approached the back door to get in, surveillance video shows Langlais coming out of nowhere and hitting Unfonak on the left side of his body, according to a police affidavit.

When Langlais hits him, Unfonak "takes a few steps back while putting both of his hands up in what appears to be a defensive position," the affidavit notes. "The suspect is then seen punching James once on the left side of his face. James is seen immediately falling to the ground and then Eric is being pulled away from James by other people."

The fatal blow ended the life of the hugely popular Rochester musician, who was rushed to Maine Medical Center where hours later he was declared brain dead and taken off life support the following day.

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