DOVER, N.H. - It only took three minutes behind closed doors for a Strafford County Superior Court judge and prosecution and defense attorneys to finalize a plea agreement and sentencing for former Foster’s and Rochester Times reporter Conor Makem, who is accused of planting a video camera to spy on users of an upstairs women’s bathroom at Merchants Plaza where Foster’s maintained a bureau and the Rochester Times housed headquarters.
Foster’s owns the Rochester Times and reporters from either paper are apt to have pieces appear in the other publication.
Makem, 45, formerly of Dover, N.H., but now reportedly living in Amesbury, Mass., did not appear for the dispositional and status conference at 9 a.m. on Thursday at the Strafford County Superior Courthouse.
After a few short words in open court, the judge, defense counsel Timothy Harrington of Shaheen & Gordon and assistant county attorney Amy Feliciano moved swiftly to judge’s chambers. Several courtroom observers said it was very rare for such an occurrence and that normally such conferences are held in open court.
No decision was announced as they returned a short time later, either, as Harrington left the courtroom immediately, telling this reporter in the lobby outside that a plea hearing and sentencing was scheduled for next Friday at 1 p.m.
Whether the judge at the plea hearing will have certain parameters of sentencing or whether the agreement is already finalized is unclear.
Often at plea sentencings, defense and prosecution attorneys argue for what they think is fair after which the judge may deliberate before handing down the sentence. In others, the decision has been decided beforehand.
No record of what the sentence or parameters of sentence was immediately available.
Makem was indicted earlier this year on charges of felony falsifying of physical evidence and 19 misdemeanors of invasion of privacy in the bathroom camera scandal that came to light last fall.
It is expected that had the case gone to trial at least some of the victims would have had to testify, which may have pushed prosecutors to try to reach a deal.
Makem is accused of setting up a remote camera in the women’s bathroom near the Foster’s Daily Democrat Rochester bureau and Rochester Times offices on the second floor of the Merchants Plaza office building near Old Dover Road.
Some 19 women are reported to have been viewed in various stages of undress inside the bathroom. Makem is also charged with falsifying physical evidence for allegedly discarding the camera.
The initial police investigation began on Oct. 7 when the woman who first discovered the camera wondered what a blinking red light was doing in the upstairs Merchants Plaza bathroom and asked Makem to take a look. She said they agreed it should be turned over to police and he said he'd take care of it. Later in the day, according to a police affidavit, the woman said she got a phone message from Makem saying he had given it to police and they had said they would be in touch with them if they needed anything.
A few hours later she called police only to find out they had never been contacted by Makem, nor had the camera been turned in.
Police on Oct. 10 executed a search warrant at the Foster’s Rochester Bureau at Merchants Plaza and seized computers and other electronic devices used by Makem, including some owned by Foster's. They made the initial arrest on falsifying physical evidence and several invasion of privacy counts on Oct. 17, then followed that up a week later with more Invasion of Privacy charges alleging more victims. Makem was terminated by Foster’s after his initial arrest.
Rochester Police also had the FBI investigate an IMac computer owned by the Rochester Times that Makem had access to on which police say they found several dozen images of child pornography. Makem, however, was not charged regarding the child porn as Rochester Police said too many people had had access to the computer over too many years to build a viable case.
The indictment was handed down by a Strafford County grand jury in January.
An accomplished musician in a band that plays traditional Irish music, Makem had to miss a whirlwind Music Tour of Ireland hosted by his Makem and Spain Brothers band late last year after surrendering both his American and Irish passports as part of his bail conditions.
Makem, who was born in County Louth, Ireland, has dual citizenship.
The Makem and Spain Brothers band tours nationwide. Prior to his arrest, the band had recently played venues in New York, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
A concert scheduled last fall at the Rochester Opera House was canceled.
The band is currently touring without Conor Makem, a person familiar with the band said in March.
The falsification of evidence charge for allegedly discarding the camera is a felony and can draw up to seven years in prison, while invasion of privacy, a Class A misdemeanor, can draw a year each in the county jail for each count.
Foster’s and the Rochester Times, meanwhile, have moved their offices from Merchants Plaza downtown to the second floor of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce building.