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AG's Office: Keene man was murdered; Jaffrey resident charged

A Jaffrey man has been charged with capital murder, and his wife is charged with falsifying evidence, in connection with the death of Keene resident Jonathan Amerault, the N.H. Attorney General’s Office and N.H. State Police announced early Friday morning.

Armando Barron, 30, of Jaffrey, is accused of murdering Amerault, 25, by shooting him during the course of a kidnapping sometime during the weekend, according to the news release early Friday morning from both agencies.

Barron’s wife, Britany Barron, 31, faces three counts of falsifying physical evidence, accused of removing, destroying, hiding or altering evidence in the case, the release says.

According to authorities, investigators determined Armando Barron lured Amerault to Annett Wayside Park in Rindge during the overnight hours between Saturday and Sunday. Britany Barron told police she and Amerault were having an affair, according to an affidavit filed in court.

Britany Barron was arrested Thursday; Armando Barron was arrested Friday on the murder charge but has been held at the Cheshire County jail on other charges since Wednesday. Britany Barron is also being held there.

Amerault had been reported missing on Monday morning after he did not show up to work at Teleflex Medical OEM, a medical supply company in Jaffrey, State Police said in a news release issued that night, noting that friends and family had not heard from him since Saturday.

Britany Barron is also an employee of Teleflex, according to a police affidavit filed in a separate case accusing Armando Barron of assaulting his wife, for which he was arraigned Thursday. Someone at Teleflex told police that Amerault and Britany Barron may have been having an affair, according to the affidavit, written by State Police Detective Matthew Anderson.

According to the affidavit, Britany Barron called out of work Monday morning and informed Teleflex she was quitting.

After learning that Amerault and Britany Barron did not report to work, police visited the Barrons’ Main Street home in Jaffrey, where they spoke with Armando Barron’s mother, Marialena Robliedo. Robliedo said she believed Armando and Britany were hiking in northern New Hampshire while she took care of their children, according to the affidavit.

Law enforcement officers saw Armando Barron’s vehicle at the home Monday night and stopped to talk to him, the affidavit says. He told the officers he had last seen Britany Barron around 2 a.m. on Sunday, when he dropped her off on the side of the road at Temple Mountain in Temple.

Armando Barron said Britany told him she was going camping with friends, according to the affidavit. He told officers that he was upset about the state of their marriage and drove to Errol, in Coos County, Monday morning before returning home, Anderson wrote.

It is approximately 193 miles from Temple to Errol on the most direct route, according to the affidavit, and investigators estimated the drive would have taken more than 3½ hours in each direction.

State Police obtained cell phone records Tuesday that showed Amerault’s phone was in Keene between 11 and 11:15 p.m. Saturday before moving toward Jaffrey and pinging cell towers there from around 11:30 p.m. until a little before 3 a.m., when it was turned off, the affidavit said.

Britany Barron’s phone was around Temple Mountain at 9:45 p.m. Saturday, the affidavit says, and then in Jaffrey from 10:30 p.m. to about 3:30 a.m., when she began moving toward Errol.

After she was in Errol, her phone began moving again shortly after 10:30 a.m. and connected with cell towers in the Dixville Notch and Colebrook areas of Coos County before returning to Errol just after noon, where the phone remained until around 6 p.m., according to the affidavit.

On Tuesday, N.H. Fish and Game Officers found Britany Barron at a campsite tucked into the woods near Abbot Brook Road in Atkinson and Gilmanton Academy Grant, according to the affidavit.

Britany Barron had a pistol pouch attached to her torso, and officers could see something covered under a large brown tarp, according to the affidavit.

“The tarp had sticks and branches on it, in what appeared to be an effort to camouflage the object under the tarp,” Anderson wrote, without saying what was under it.

Britany Barron was detained and taken to the Berlin Police Department, where she was interviewed by the N.H. State Major Crime Unit. She told them that on Saturday, her husband went through her phone and discovered that she was having an affair with Amerault, according to the affidavit.

She then told police, according to the affidavit, that her husband confronted and assaulted her in their home, repeatedly striking her head and face, placing a gun in her mouth and choking her. Investigators interviewing her observed obvious injuries to her face and neck, the affidavit says.

Britany Barron told investigators that her husband took her phone to lure Amerault to the Annette Park area in Jaffrey and Rindge, and that he repeatedly struck her while on the drive to the park, the detective wrote.

Just before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, police contacted Armando Barron, who told them he’d last seen his wife around 5 p.m. the night before, according to the affidavit. He declined to go to the station to speak with police or meet them, saying he was with the couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Anderson wrote. He ultimately agreed to meet with authorities in Jaffrey but never arrived, and police later located his vehicle at the Millipore Sigma employee parking lot in Jaffrey, according to the affidavit.

Police observed mud on the vehicle and “a dark red stain consistent with the appearance of blood on the interior of the driver’s door,” Anderson wrote.

In addition to the felony charge for Amerault’s death, Armando Barron faces several charges in relation to his wife. He was charged with second-degree domestic violence assault and domestic violence criminal threatening, both felonies, and domestic violence simple assault, a misdemeanor.

A male cedar waxwing perches on a piece of driftwood on the top of the dam at Ashuelot River Park in Keene recently. The bird was busy eating berries and catching insects on the wing.

NH nursing homes to gain COVID testing flexibility; price at issue

New Hampshire officials plan to give nursing home owners and operators more control of a program that searches for signs of COVID-19 among 10,000 employees in the state’s high-level care facilities.

But some of the people running the 75 nursing homes in the state are worried about uncertain test costs and the threat of large deficits.

The surveillance program aims to detect the presence of COVID before it can spread among the residents and staff of a facility. Currently, HHS coordinates a program under which nursing homes collect samples from staff and residents. Those samples are sent for testing at a laboratory in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and other laboratories. The state pays the bill.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said Wednesday in a Zoom session with nursing home operators that in order to give them “more control over when and who they test,” the state would “move our surveillance program into a self-directed program.”

The state, which since June has been picking up the tab for surveillance testing, would provide “some funding,” Shibinette added.

But some nursing home operators say the proposed funding — $100 a test — won’t cover the $175 they currently pay commercial laboratories for each test, and worry that they lack the bargaining power to cut better deals with big laboratory companies.

The program will change after a transition set to begin Oct. 12 and be completed by Oct. 26, Shibinette said. The state will step back from coordinating testing or paying directly to have samples analyzed at DHMC and other labs. The testing cycle, which currently aims to reach all staff members every 10 days, will be stretched out to reach all staff members monthly and a few — about 10 percent — each week. And residents will no longer be included in the surveillance testing program. That’s because the surveillance program has mostly been successful in identifying COVID among staff, Shibinette said.

The state will continue to operate a parallel program in which HHS oversees testing of all residents and staff in residences where COVID has been identified.

The prospect of financial shortfalls has dampened the enthusiasm of some of the nursing home operators who the state identifies as the beneficiaries of greater flexibility. “We’d love it if the state continued to do what they’re doing,” said Tom Argue, chief executive of Webster at Rye, a Rockingham County nonprofit that operates a 61-bed nursing home.

Nursing homes have been ground zero for the COVID pandemic in New Hampshire. Of the 438 deaths attributed to COVID, 357, or 81.5 percent, occurred in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, according to HHS. Surveillance testing played an important role in reversing that deadly trend, according to Shibinette. No COVID deaths have occurred in New Hampshire in the past week, according to HHS.

At a news conference on Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu emphasized the success of the testing program to date. “We’re rocking it,” he said. We’re proud of what we’re doing.”

New Hampshire’s nursing home surveillance testing began June 1 when a no-bid contract for up to $6 million and one year took effect with a small North Carolina limited liability company named Mako Medical Laboratories. In late July, the state transferred the contract from Mako to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which committed to do up to 600 tests a day in its laboratory.

But starting in October, each nursing home owner or operator will need to line up its own testing partner. That could prove burdensome, said Brendan Williams, chief executive of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, an organization that represents owners of nursing homes and other senior living facilities. “I worry about my smaller members who don’t have the scale to negotiate with (a) laboratory,” he said.

Shibinette said that New Hampshire has budgeted to reimburse nursing homes $100 for each surveillance test through the end of the year. Surveillance testing will be “still a very robust program that is very much supported by state resources,” she added.

But Lisa Henderson, executive director of LeadingAge Maine and New Hampshire, an organization of nonprofit senior living providers, said that she had heard from caregivers that the current “price on the street” for the PCR tests that are used for surveillance is about $175.

Argue, the CEO at Webster at Rye, which has 160 employees in a facility that also has 89 beds of assisted living and memory care, said that the difference could add $187,000 of red ink onto his organization’s annual budget.

Anne Purrington, the chief executive of Presidential Oaks, which operates an 85-bed nursing home in Concord, wrote in a chat comment in the Zoom session that the proposed reimbursement rate could, on an annual basis, add to her annual budget up to $125,000 in new and unreimbursed costs: “This is not sustainable.”

New Hampshire authorities have had an extended courtship with testers. Under its contract, Mako billed New Hampshire $70 a test. But the Mako program, which involved sending thousands of samples collected in New Hampshire nursing homes to a laboratory 700 miles away, generated complaints about inaccuracies and delays in test results.

The surveillance program “had some bumps at the beginning but it’s gone remarkably smoothly” since D-H took over testing, Argue said.

Jake Leon, an HHS spokesman, said that D-H has been “a good partner on surveillance testing,” has had a turnaround time for test results of “about one day” and will continue doing testing for surveillance in “other institutional or congregate settings.”

D-H also gave the state a bargain, according to a contract amendment dated Sept. 1. Each test at D-H cost $65.

At the news conference with Sununu on Thursday, Shibinette said that after accounting for testing done at other laboratories HHS had been paying an average of about $100 a test and that she was confident that “most facilities can go out and negotiate with the commercial laboratories for about that amount.”

The new program will require monthly testing of all nursing home staff, complemented by weekly tests of 10 percent of facility staff. That change promises to ease the workload of nursing home managers who, under the current program, need to make all employees available for a test once every 10 days. The 10-day test cycle also includes 10 percent of residents.

Slowing the rate of nursing home testing could help the state extend surveillance testing to other vulnerable populations including seniors in assisted living facilities, homeless people and inmates, Shibinette said.

The testing shift comes as the COVID pandemic lingers, commitments to public health measures waver and the vaccine pipeline has yet to produce a safe and effective counter to the virus. “COVID-19 is still out there,” Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said in the Zoom session. “It’s still spreading.”

“People are relaxing social distancing,” Chan added. “We can expect to see more community transition for that reason.”

For New Hampshire nursing homes, which have historically coped with low reimbursements for a population in which residents covered by the state-federal Medicaid program predominate, the pandemic has been a budget buster. For example, Webster at Rye has posted monthly deficits of about $150,000 during the time of COVID, according to Argue.

The financial pressures continue to mount in an industry that provides critical care to 7,000 elderly and disabled residents in the state. Said Williams, of the nursing home trade association: “The entire sector is teetering, and we will see facility fire sales and closures.”

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18-year-old charged in 2019 murder of father in Antrim

An 18-year-old from Antrim has been charged with killing his father last year, the N.H. Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday.

Joseph Beam was indicted on one count of first-degree murder in the Nov. 1 death of his father, Jason Beam, 41. The office said Joseph Beam is accused of assaulting Jason Beam multiple times with a hammer and a knife.

Jason Beam died of “multiple sharp and blunt penetrating injuries of the head, neck, and chest,” the office said last year. At the time, the Attorney General’s Office said it had arrested an unnamed juvenile.

Joseph Beam is being held at the Valley Street jail in Manchester, the office said Thursday.

Jason Beam was found dead at his Gregg Lake Road home after firefighters were called there for a report of a structure fire with someone still inside, on a couch and bleeding, Antrim Fire Chief Marshall Gale said last year.

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ConVal lawsuit
NH Supreme Court hears oral arguments in ConVal school-funding case

CONCORD — The state’s appeal of the ConVal school-funding decision had its oral arguments in the N.H. Supreme Court Thursday morning.

The state is appealing a Cheshire County Superior Court judge’s June 2019 decision siding largely with the Peterborough-based ConVal School District, which had argued the current law setting the base adequacy aid for schools is unconstitutional because it underfunds the ConVal district and three other districts that joined the petition soon after ConVal filed it.

Those districts are the Mascenic Regional, Monadnock Regional and Winchester school districts.

In the state’s August 2019 appeal, it argued it is not unconstitutional for the state not to fund school expenses such as transportation. The state is also appealing the superior court’s decision that the state is now responsible to pay for the school districts’ attorney fees, which were about $130,000 at the time the appeal was filed.

“The state’s argument is that the trial court went at it the wrong way,” Solicitor General Daniel E. Will of the N.H. Attorney General’s Office argued Thursday morning. “The trial court put the cart before the horse.”

Will said the court and the plaintiffs failed to prove that the state’s definition of an adequate education does not fully cover the costs of providing an adequate education.

“In order to put the burden on the state to justify a limitation on a constitutional right, you have to first prove that you’ve been deprived of it. And so in a case where a plaintiff wants to say, ‘I can’t provide an adequate education on the base adequacy amount that the state has provided’ … the burden remains on that plaintiff then to prove that that plaintiff cannot provide an adequate education on the base adequacy amount that the state has provided,” Will said. “The state’s position is that the statute sets forth the base equity amount. … They bear the burden of proof that that constitutional right has been deprived, that that ... base adequacy amount is too low.”

Will also argued the superior court proceedings failed to provide evidence through discovery.

“How do we know that you can’t provide an adequate education based on this? You’ve got to prove that. You’ve got to prove what you can’t provide,” Will said. “Instead what the trial court relied on was actual costs that the school districts purport to pay in various categories of their educational enterprise.”

When asked by a justice why there was no discovery period in the superior court case, Will said it was a speedy case. “I don’t think that’s a realistic argument, your honor. This case, this case happened at warp speed,” he said.

“The real disparity is between actual costs and between what the adequacy costs are. Actual does not equal adequacy. ... Asking everyone to look at your actual costs, it doesn’t really tell you anything,” Will said.

Representing the school districts, attorney Michael Tierney said one of the reasons the case moved swiftly last year was because the state had moved for a summary judgment without discovery. Tierney also said the court did have proof and discovery through the four affidavits provided by the superintendents of the school districts involved in the case.

“We’re here to enforce this court’s existing precedents,” Tierney said. “As we just heard from the state, there’s no challenge to those existing precedents. Those existing precedents include that in this state, a constitutionally adequate education is a fundamental right.

“And this fundamental right,” he went on, “is by a state-funded, adequate, public education. The state has the exclusive obligation to fund that obligation. And the state may not shift any of that responsibility to local communities.”

Tierney said the courts have a responsibility to make sure constitutional rights are not diminished.

Given “the lack of action by other branches, a traditional remedy is not only appropriate but is essential,” Tierney said. “It’s important for the court to remember you heard just here today, the state not claiming that the amount of funding that it’s providing is constitutionally adequate.”

Tierney said it was proved in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene that the four school districts involved cannot offer a constitutionally adequate education with the funding provided by the state.

Currently, the state is providing districts with a baseline of $3,708 per student in “adequacy aid” — plus additional amounts tied to students’ socioeconomic status, special education and other factors. (Districts also receive what’s known as stabilization aid and, this fiscal year, a couple of one-time boosts based on property values and socioeconomic makeup.)

The original lawsuit was filed by the ConVal School District on March 13, 2019.

The complaint said using the state’s own formula and the state’s own data, the state’s base adequacy funding falls far short of constitutionally sufficient for the children of the ConVal, Mascenic, Monadnock and Winchester school districts, as well as throughout New Hampshire.

ConVal and the other school districts claimed in the petition that the actual cost of an education, based on Department of Education data, is about $18,901 per student. The complaint asked the court to set the base adequacy amount at $9,929 per student for the fiscal year 2020 and $10,843.60 for 2019.

“We’re not asking that the state necessarily apply what our actual costs are,” Tierney said. “We’re asking that the state apply a costing formula, okay? That is rational and based on real facts so that there can be real funding.”

The state adequacy number is based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008, and rises with inflation every two years.

“In this case, and for the past 25 years, they have substantially underfunded … with promises that they’re going to fix it next year, next year, next year, next year,” Tierney said in court Thursday.

“... And actually, the $3,500 in state aid goes back to the foundation formula from 1986, that $3,500. The Legislature is capable of keeping up with any changes that may be necessary, but in this particular case we need to have a specific remedy to cure unconstitutional actions that were recognized by the superior court in this case.”

He argued that these rural school districts cannot fund an adequate education as defined by the state because they face challenges urban and larger school districts don’t. For instance, the Winchester School District pays tuition for its students to attend high school in the Keene School District at $14,053 per student each year because it would cost Winchester more than $15,000 per student to just meet the bare minimum requirements to educate high-schoolers within its own school district.

“They can’t provide the minimum for less than they are tuitioning to Keene,” Tierney said.

Additionally, rural school districts like these four in the Monadnock Region, he said, pay substantially more for busing students to and from school because of the additional miles that have to be covered. The state needs to recognize a “one size fits all” approach to funding transportation does not work.

Tierney added that in 2008, the Legislature did determine that transportation is part of the cost of an adequate education. “The error is that they just took 33 percent off the top and decided that high school transportation is something that the state shouldn’t pay for,” Tierney said. “We have an obligation to provide an education to all of our students, including our high school students.”

On Thursday afternoon, Tierney said a written decision from the justices is expected sometime in the next three to six months. The decision could be to send the case back to the superior court, he said.

The state is requesting a remand to the superior court “to have a trial to determine if the state funding formula is unconstitutional,” Tierney said. “And we’re asking for a remand back to the superior court for only what the proper remedy would be.”

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.