DOVER - The Rochester transient whose arrest in two local burglaries in three days in July highlighted the failures of the state's recent bail reform legislation and drew widespread community outrage pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges connected with the two break-ins.
Nicholas Closson, 38, whose last known address was on Jackson Street in Rochester, pleaded guilty to two felony theft charges and one felony burglary charge.
Closson was sentenced to six months in the Strafford House of Corrections and on the burglary and received two 12-month suspended sentences on the theft charges, both suspended for two years upon his release from jail.
The charges were the result one count of burglary and two counts of theft in connection with a July 26 Richardson Street incident; and another theft a couple of days earlier on July 24 when he was charged in a May Street theft. While in the commission of that crime, Closson was held at bay by an armed homeowner who arrived at the scene to find him attempting to burglarize his home. The homeowner held him at bay until police arrived. That case is still being adjudicated in Rochester District Court.
Shortly after Closson's second arrest, Rochester Police Capt. Todd Pinkham said if the first arrest had occurred prior to recent bail reform legislation there would have been a much larger chance he would've been held on cash bail.
However, bail reform advocates like the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, and its author, Albert "Buzz" Scherr, a UNH School of Law professor, want cash taken out of the equation, arguing that it is unfair to the poor and indigent.
In a statement sent The Rochester Voice last month Feltes said bail reform is designed to keep nondangerous people out of jail.
"Bipartisan bail reform protects public safety, protects individual liberty and economic opportunity, and protects property tax payers from footing the bill to jail nondangerous people pending their trial," he said. "If someone misses a hearing, that doesn't mean they are a danger to themselves or others, it means they missed a hearing."
A further request from The Rochester Voice for clarification on some of the apparent shortcomings of the bill was ignored by Feltes, who announced earlier this month that he would be challenging New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu next year.
Specifically, the Bail Reform legislation, SB 314, lays down the new parameters for cash bail to include anyone "charged as a felony, class A misdemeanor, or driving or operating while impaired, 3 or more times within the past 5 years" or deemed a danger to themselves or the public.
But many crimes like shoplifting and theft by unauthorized taking can be B misdemeanors that aren't even in the mix.
The result while awaiting trial is that some nonviolent offenders rack up a half dozen failures to appear with no consequence, Pinkham said, or reoffend and get another PR bail.
Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi, a strong advocate to tighten bail reform measures, said earlier this month that a committee commissioned to study the problem is showing signs of being open to allowing judges more flexibility in holding suspects who continue to reoffend while out on PR, even noting the bail reform author Scherr has said there are changes that can be made.
Velardi said they will be meeting with bail commissioners after Veterans Day to see what input they have on reaching a compromise.