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Alstead man accused of fleeing police held without bail, faces sexual assault charges

An Alstead man whose flight from police last week sparked a six-hour manhunt was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Monday on nine felony charges, including aggravated felonious sexual assault, second-degree assault and witness tampering.

James D. “J.D.” Crawford, 32, declined court-appointed representation and appeared without a lawyer in Cheshire County Superior Court. Pleas of not guilty were entered on his behalf.

The charges mostly stem from two days this spring, when Crawford is alleged to have broken a teenage girl’s jaw and then sexually assaulted her about a month later.

The girl, whom Crawford knew, said Crawford beat her and forced himself on her that night, and that he and his wife, Jennifer Ritchie, had pressured her to lie to police about it, according to a police affidavit filed in court.

Ritchie, 37, of Alstead, was also arraigned Monday. She faces two charges of witness tampering, a felony; and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. She pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.

Crawford and Ritchie were arrested Friday in Alstead after police stopped their vehicle. Ritchie was taken into custody immediately, but Crawford fled on foot and was not apprehended for several hours, according to N.H. State Police. The search prompted schools in Alstead, Acworth and Langdon to go into “secure campus” mode as a precaution.

According to the affidavit, written by N.H. State Police Trooper William Neilsen, the investigation began the morning of May 1, when police received a call about a girl who had been walking along a roadway, naked except for a blue tarp she had wrapped herself in, Neilsen wrote.

The caller said she appeared to have been beaten, and police later documented black eyes, bruises and scrapes on her legs and arms, and what looked like a belt mark on her back, Neilsen wrote. Security footage from a neighbor’s house showed her fleeing the home Ritchie and Crawford were in around midnight, according to the affidavit.

The girl initially said a stranger had forced her into his pickup, attacked her and torn off her clothes after she left the house, but later told investigators that Crawford hit her and then raped her, as Ritchie watched without intervening, according to the affidavit. She said she escaped after Crawford told her to go to the kitchen to get an icepack for her face, then hid in the woods overnight, Neilsen wrote. She said Ritchie invented the story about the abduction and told her to tell that to police, according to the affidavit.

The girl also said Crawford had punched her in the jaw a month earlier and then pressured her to lie about how it happened, according to Neilsen.

Crawford has a criminal history that includes convictions for domestic violence and felony criminal restraint, the latter from a 2017 case in which he scratched a girlfriend in the face, hit her head against a window, headbutted her and grabbed her by the leg and hair, according to a police affidavit.

Crawford was also charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault in 2016, in a case that alleged he raped a woman in Alstead, but prosecutors dropped the charges later that year. The court file contains no explanation for the dismissal. Crawford had pleaded not guilty in that case.

In court Monday, Ritchie’s lawyer, Monique Schmidt, said her client’s alleged actions came in the context of her relationship with Crawford, “an imposing, intimidating, and threatening figure.”

“You don’t have to read between the lines too much to see that she’s afraid of him, too,” Schmidt said in court Monday.

Judge David W. Ruoff denied Ritchie’s request for bail. “The court remains concerned about what it perceives as the defendant’s attempts to manipulate the investigation and the victim in this case,” he said.

The months-long investigation culminated last week, when state troopers began surveilling Crawford and Ritchie Thursday night, according to the affidavit. When police pulled them over in a pickup truck on Route 123 the following morning, Crawford stepped out of the truck and put his hands up, but then fled on foot through a field and across a small river, Neilsen wrote.

State troopers, aided by a helicopter, a K9 unit and officers from Alstead, Walpole and the N.H. Fish and Game Department, searched wooded parts of Alstead, East Alstead and South Acworth for the next several hours, according to a news release from N.H. State Police.

A State Police dog, Storm, eventually apprehended Crawford along Old Settler’s Road in East Alstead around 2:45 p.m., according to the affidavit. A dispatcher called in an ambulance for Crawford, mentioning a dog bite. He also appeared to be suffering from having spent hours outside in the chilly weather, Neilsen wrote in the affidavit.

In addition to the felony charges, Crawford was charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.

In court Monday, Crawford called the assault allegations “hearsay” and tried to explain why he fled Friday’s traffic stop.

“When I ran from the cops, it’s not because the cops said, ‘Passenger, please get out of the vehicle and let us arrest you — ,’ ” he began.

“Mr. Crawford, I’m just gonna give you a little warning,” the judge interjected, pointing out that he was about to discuss facts that could be used against Crawford on a pending charge. “... Everything you’re telling me right now is arguably incriminating in some way.”

“What I’m saying, your honor, is I did not run out of [being] scared to be arrested,” Crawford continued. “I ran because there were four police officers behind us with all their guns aimed at my head. And, yes, I thought I was going to be killed right there. I had no idea what I was under arrest for.”

Minutes later, Ruoff again advised him to find an attorney. “You’re basically looking at the rest of your life at state prison if you’re convicted of all these things,” he said.

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff 

Recycled Percussion

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Ryan Vezina, left, and Justin Spencer of Recycled Percussion lay down a beat at The Colonial Theatre in Keene during their early Saturday afternoon show this past weekend. The group played four shows, one Friday night and three Saturday.

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What to know about the six candidates at tonight's debate in Iowa

Only six Democratic presidential hopefuls qualified for Tuesday night’s televised debate in Iowa, with less than a month until the caucuses in that state on Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 11.

December’s debate saw new policy areas introduced into the conversation, a pointed exchange between then-South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over fundraising events and a widely praised performance from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Since then, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have dropped out of the race.

New York tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang fell short of the polling thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee to make it on stage Tuesday night, while California billionaire Tom Steyer squeaked by with the two early-state polls necessary last week, taking more than the 5 percent required in South Carolina and Nevada.

As the candidates prepared for the debate, CNN broke a story Monday from unnamed sources claiming that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont privately told Warren that a woman could not beat President Donald Trump in 2020. The previously unreported exchange — which Sanders denies involved gender as a disqualifier — came when the two met in 2018 to discuss the possibility of running against each other in the primary.

Sanders responded in a statement claiming the sources were lying. In a statement later Monday, Warren said the two senators had discussed the possibility of Democrats nominating a woman. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said.

That, coupled with reports of Sanders volunteers delivering sharp critiques of Warren when going door-to-door in Iowa, has marked the first signs of a potential fraying in the two progressives’ friendship.

The Sanders-Warren tensions, along with the recent escalations between the United States and Iran, are two key dynamics that could shape the latest debate, according to Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

“Typically, debates — and they’re important to me — tend to be overrated,” Scala told The Sentinel Monday. “But this one might stand a better chance of living up to its billing than most, given its proximity to [Iowa and New Hampshire voting].”

More professor’s notes from Scala and a primer on each candidate are below. (New Hampshire polling averages are from the RealClear politics algorithm.)

Tom Steyer

Background: Billionaire investor from California and founder of NextGen America, a nonprofit group pushing for environmental and voting-rights reform

Age: 62

Visits to the region this cycle: One, a disability policy forum at the Crotched Mountain School in Greenfield in December

N.H. polling average: 3 percent (+0.3 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “I don’t think the reason he’s doing as well as he is in South Carolina and in Nevada has to do as much with his debate performance as compared to basically having a monopoly on paid advertising in those two states,” Scala said. “Given that ... this could be an opportunity to present himself as, look, this [bickering] is just what you don’t like about politics, and I’m something different.”

Elizabeth Warren

Background: Senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts; previously a Harvard Law School professor of bankruptcy law and adviser to federal oversight programs

Age: 70

Visits to the region this cycle: Four, a Keene State College town hall in April, a packed rally at the Peterborough Town House in July, a return to Keene State in September and a bowling alley rally at Bowling Acres in Peterborough last month

Pod Free or Die bonus: On The Sentinel’s politics podcast, Warren discussed her wealth tax, the war in Afghanistan and why she doesn’t listen to advice about raising money. She returned last month to pick up on the wealth tax.

N.H. polling average: 17 percent (+6.3 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “I expect she’ll be getting some questions that will invite her to take a swipe at Sanders,” Scala said. “It’ll be interesting to watch how she takes advantage of that in her response in a way that, how can she be critical of Sanders without herself sounding divisive and not living up to her reputation, or the reputation she would like, as a unifier? ... And gender plays a role here too.”

Joe Biden

Background: Former vice president; ran for president in 1988 and 2008 and was a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973-2009

Age: 77

Visits to the region this cycle: Two, a Keene State rally in late August and a Peterborough Town House forum in late December

Pod Free or Die bonus: Biden gamed out a potential recession, his foreign policy views and how the country has changed since he left the White House

N.H. polling average: 23.3 percent (+9 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “This could be an evening with a lot of foreign policy questions, and if so, he could stand to benefit,” Scala said. “That should be a strong point for him. I don’t think he would mind, necessarily, mixing it up with Sanders on that.”

Bernie Sanders

Background: Junior U.S. senator from Vermont, formerly the at-large congressman for Vermont and mayor of Burlington; runner-up in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary; remains an independent but caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate

Age: 78

Visits to the region this cycle: Four, a full-house rally at The Colonial Theatre in Keene in March, another packed rally at the Peterborough Town House in September, an October rally at Keene State College and a holiday party at Stonewall Farm in Keene in December

Pod Free or Die bonus: From his campaign suite at the N.H. Democratic Party Convention, Sanders talked about foreign policy and what he wants his legacy to be

N.H. polling average: 22.3 percent (+3.3 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “Sanders now has enjoyed a good month of strong publicity, culminating with his narrow first-place standing [in Iowa] in the Des Moines Register poll,” Scala said. “It’s his turn to be in the hot seat.”

Pete Buttigieg

Background: Former mayor of South Bend, Ind.; served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves. Buttigieg is a former Rhodes scholar and would be the first openly gay president.

Age: 37

Visits to the region this cycle: Six, once in February at the Orchard School and Community Center in Alstead before declaring his candidacy, then as an official candidate in May at Keene High School and an August house party in Hancock. He brought huge crowds to the Peterborough Town House in October, the Walpole Elementary School in November and The Colonial Theatre in Keene in January.

Pod Free or Die bonus: Buttigieg talked about his Medicare For All Who Want It health care plan, how Americans compartmentalize the military’s sacrifice abroad and what he thinks of being compared to French President Emmanuel Macron.

N.H. polling average: 13.3 percent (-4.4 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “A positive outcome would be not being the focus of negative attention,” Scala said. “But being able to go back to being a voice of a new generation, staying above the fray, not having to be in the glare as much as he was last time ... the more attention that goes to Warren and Sanders, the more he can pivot off of that.”

Amy Klobuchar

Background: The senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, Klobuchar was the Hennepin County attorney before becoming the first woman elected to one of Minnesota’s Senate seats.

Age: 59

Visits to the region this cycle: Six. She made an April visit to Peterborough’s Waterhouse Restaurant, gave a May address as the keynote speaker of the Cheshire County Democrats’ annual spaghetti dinner in Keene, made an August stop in Greenfield for the Hillsborough County Democrats’ Summer Picnic and participated in a business roundtable followed by a Q&A town hall at Stonewall Farm in Keene. In October, she met with a Keene State College political science class and then held her biggest rally in the region so far at Keene High School in December.

Pod Free or Die bonus: Klobuchar talked about climate change and rural communities, as well as her early career ambitions to become a librarian.

N.H. polling average: 5 percent (+3 since the December debate)

Professor’s note: “She can turn and present herself as the pragmatist, someone who has policy ideas, but they’re more moderate, they’re more realistic,” Scala said. “I think she’ll spend more time going after Buttigieg, which seemed to work last time ... She can’t blend in with the wallpaper tonight. She’s gotta make a good impression.”

The candidates are listed in the order they will appear, left to right, on stage in Tuesday night’s debate.

Trump: 'It doesn't really matter' if Soleimani attacks were imminent

President Donald Trump said Monday “it doesn’t really matter” if Iran’s top general was plotting attacks on Americans at the time of his death.

Trump’s about-face contradicts his and his administration’s repeated assertions that the president only ordered the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani to prevent the Iranian Quds Force general from carrying out “imminent” attacks on American troops and diplomats in the Middle East.

“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement,” Trump tweeted. “The answer to both is a strong YES, but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”

The mixed signals from Trump comes as his Cabinet officials keep contradicting each other while giving justifications for the Jan. 3 airstrike that killed Soleimani outside a Baghdad airport.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he had seen no intelligence to back up the president’s claim a few days earlier that the “imminent” attacks Soleimani was allegedly planning targeted four U.S. embassies.

Former U.S. officials say they can think of no scenario under which a president would be privy to military intelligence that a defense secretary did not know of.

“Unless standard operating procedures for sharing intelligence in the USG have changed radically since the time I served in the Obama administration, there is no way that the president, but not the secretary of defense, would have this kind of intel. No way,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said last week he didn’t know “exactly where” or “exactly when” Soleimani was going to strike, only to backtrack and claim he was definitely targeting American embassies.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said Trump administration officials did not provide sufficient explanations in classified briefings last week as to why the U.S. needed to kill Soleimani, who effectively served as Iran’s second-in-command directly under the supreme leader.Previous American presidents have had the opportunity to kill Soleimani but opted against it, reasoning his death could spark all-out war in the Middle East. Soleimani was considered responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American forces and allies.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have reached a fever pitch in the past few days.

In a tragic development, Iran admitted over the weekend that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane after firing a volley of ballistic missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq last week in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. All 176 people on board the plane died, including dozens of Iranians.

Hundreds of enraged Iranians have taken to the streets of Tehran to protest the regime in the wake of the accidental strike, and Trump cheered them on Monday.

“Wow! The wonderful Iranian protesters refused to step on, or in any way denigrate, our Great American Flag,” Trump tweeted in apparent reference to news footage of protesters. “It was put on the street in order for them to trample it, and they walked around it instead. Big progress!”

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Awareness urged after Chesterfield police report attempted abduction of two school-aged children

CHESTERFIELD — State agencies have contacted schools across New Hampshire to be aware after police reported an attempted abduction of two school-aged children in Chesterfield Monday morning.

The students were on their way to school when a man approached them in a red van, with either New Hampshire or Massachusetts license plates, according to the notice from the N.H. Department of Education and N.H. Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He allegedly asked the children if they wanted a ride, and after the children refused, the van followed them for a short time until it drove off.

N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay said in a phone interview Monday afternoon he contacted the state agencies to spread the message across the state.

“I want to remind our parents to be mindful when our kids are going to the bus stop and make sure that somebody is there until they get on and there when they get off the bus,” he said. “Just be mindful of any strange vehicles or something that doesn’t look right.”

Chesterfield police Lt. Michael Bomba declined to release further details on the case Monday morning.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Bomba at 355-2000.