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Jaffrey woman sentenced for falsifying evidence in Keene man's slaying
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Editor’s note: This article contains descriptions of violence. They are included because of their relevance to the case.

NORTH HAVERHILL — Britany Barron struggled to speak through her tears on Wednesday, as she addressed a courtroom moments before being sentenced for her actions after Keene resident Jonathan Amerault was killed last year.

Dressed in a red prison uniform and reading from a piece of paper she held in her shackled hands, Barron, 32, described the “shame and disgust” she feels for her involvement in efforts to conceal Amerault’s death from authorities after prosecutors say her husband, Armando Barron, shot and killed him in September 2020. In her statement, Barron, of Jaffrey, didn’t try to defend her actions; doing so, she said, would be an insult to Amerault’s family.

“I’m sorry for every single thing I’ve done to Jonathan,” she said tearfully, facing Amerault’s parents. “I understand that my words are meaningless and do nothing to bring back your incredible son. The only way that I can think of to try to show you that I’m really, sincerely sorry is to accept full responsibility for my actions.”

Last month, Britany Barron accepted a plea agreement in which she pleaded guilty to three counts of falsifying evidence in exchange for a sentence of 3½ to seven years in state prison, with two years suspended on condition of continued good behavior. On Wednesday, Grafton County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein upheld that agreement.

Amerault, 25, was reported missing on Sept. 21, 2020, after not showing up for work that day. His body was found the following day in an unincorporated area of Coos County.

According to an affidavit written by N.H. State Police Sgt. Stephen Sloper, Barron told police last year that her husband used her cellphone to lure Amerault to Annett State Park in Rindge after discovering text messages between the two. Barron had told her husband that she wanted a divorce, and she and Amerault were in the early stages of forming a romantic relationship, Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati said at her plea hearing last month.

Once at the park during the overnight hours between Sept. 19 and 20, 2020, Barron told police, her husband ordered her to shoot Amerault, but after she refused, he shot and killed Amerault himself, according to the affidavit. She also said that just prior to this, Armando Barron had severely assaulted her, leaving her with a pair of black eyes, a broken nose and other injuries.

Barron and her husband then took Amerault’s vehicle and their own north to Coos County, where they made camp and attempted to dispose of the evidence, Sloper said she told police. According to the affidavit, Barron said she followed orders from her husband — with whom she has three young children — to remove Amerault’s head and to conceal his body and his vehicle.

“As a mother, I know in my heart that justice will never be served,” Barron said Wednesday. “No amount of prison time or life sentences will take the pain away or undo the past.”

Barron’s attorney, Richard Guerriero, explained that while her sentence was technically 3½ to seven years, the two suspended years mean it effectively becomes 1½ to five years. With a bit more than a year of time served, Barron will be eligible for parole as early as this spring, according to Guerriero, as long as she follows the terms of her plea deal, which include avoiding further legal trouble.

“She should parole after one and a half years,” Guerriero said. “And she has credit for the time served, so she should be eligible for parole in March.”

Barron has been incarcerated since late September 2020, after Amerault’s body was discovered by N.H. Fish and Game officers near the campsite she said she and Armando had set up. Her husband, who Barron said had returned to Jaffrey without her, was arrested shortly thereafter on charges related to both Amerault’s death and his wife’s alleged assault.

Under the conditions of her plea deal, Barron will also be required to pay restitution, most of which will go directly to Amerault’s family, in an amount that is to be determined. She will also be required to testify against her husband next year when his capital murder case is scheduled to go to trial.

Both Agati and Guerriero agreed that the terms of Barron’s plea agreement meet the court’s goals of balancing punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. Agati said several factors were taken into consideration, including Barron’s allegedly abusive marriage, her lack of a criminal record and her ongoing efforts to cooperate with law enforcement.

“Her actions and motivations truly were unique and require a unique view ... to come to an appropriate sentence,” Agati said.

However, not everyone thought Barron’s sentence sufficient.

In her victim-impact statement, Amerault’s mother, Justine Amerault, spoke of her son’s many accomplishments, ranging from athletics to academics, and of his good nature, noting that he was both a blood and an organ donor who cared deeply about social issues. She said his death was a devastating loss and called Barron’s actions “abhorrent, savage, evil beyond imagination, egregiously selfish, callous and self-serving.”

She described the pain her family endured between the time they realized he was missing and when authorities confirmed they’d found his body. She reflected on the milestones her son will never get to experience and the potential he will never get to realize.

“Jonathan had the world in the palm of his hand,” she said. “She snatched it from him, from his father, from me and from the rest of Jonathan’s extended family.”

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School nurses: COVID-19 testing key to keeping kids in class
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With cold and flu season fast approaching, local school nurses say COVID-19 testing is key to helping keep kids in class and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all students and staff. And on some area campuses, that testing is even being offered on-site.

Current guidance from the state health department advises students who develop new and unexplained symptoms of COVID-19 — such as fever or chills, a cough and a runny nose — get tested for the coronavirus or stay home from school for 10 days before returning.

“Saying ‘it’s just a cold’ doesn’t make it true and certainly doesn’t help control the spread of any illness,” said Carolyn Tilton, the nurse for Nelson Elementary School and Wells Memorial School in Harrisville. “Staying home and following the [N.H. Department of Health and Human Services’] recommendations is the best way to help keep everyone in our community healthy and safe.”

But as the more-contagious delta variant has driven a spike in cases locally and nationwide, Cheshire Medical Center in Keene — the only hospital locally doing community COVID-19 testing, in addition to pharmacies and urgent-care facilities — has seen an increased demand for testing. This can make it more difficult for kids to get tested, and more frustrating for their families, said Carrie Frederiksen, the nurse at Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey Center.

“It’s kind of tough,” she said. “… Some of my students are already on their second cold this year, and their parents are understandably frustrated that their child has to get another COVID test, or miss 10 days.”

With coronavirus tests at the heart of schools’ strategies for keeping kids healthy and in classrooms, several area schools have begun conducting their own rapid tests on site through the state health department’s Safer at School Screening program (SASS). The program, which is free to schools, provides staff with the materials for testing, which parents must consent to before their children participate.

“Here at Wheelock, we offer rapid testing,” said Whitney Linnenbringer, the nurse at the Keene elementary school. “So for our school population, we can do a rapid antigen test here at school and hopefully minimize the time they would need to be absent.”

Linnenbringer said she considers the results of these rapid tests, which take about 30 minutes to yield results, on a case-by-case basis. If a test comes back negative, and a student presented only a mild symptom like a runny nose, they can come back to school. But if the negative test result comes from a student who had multiple, and perhaps more severe, symptoms, Linnenbringer recommends they seek further treatment before they return.

“And then there’s some gray area in the middle,” she said. “... Some kids need a day or two. If they have a viral illness, they can’t make it through a day. They’re tired; they need to rest.”

Traci Fairbanks is the nurse at Chesterfield School, which also offers rapid testing. The results, she said, are helpful in making recommendations to a student’s family, but school nurses consider the results in the context of “normal sick day management.”

“I really focus on, ‘You have to be healthy to access your education’,” Fairbanks said. “Just like when you go to work, if you’re not well, you’re not going to be high-performing. So I really underscore that message. I did it before COVID, and I’ll do it after COVID.”

Keene High School is also in the process of implementing on-site coronavirus testing, Nicole Boudle, one of two nurses at the school, said.

“So hopefully that will take off some of the burden. I do hear from parents that it is hard to get tests,” she said. “... Hopefully this will help keep kids in school, be able to help them not fall behind.”

For some schools, though, on-site testing isn’t a viable option.

“It’s not something I want to do at my school,” Frederiksen, the nurse at Mount Caesar, said. “My students are preschool to 2nd grade, so I’m really hesitant to test them without having a parent present at my school. So with this age group, it’s hard to do a nasal swab without having parents present. But it’s difficult to get testing done in the area right now.”

In addition to COVID-19 testing, Frederiksen said students, families and school staff should follow the same procedures public health experts have advised since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s the advice that’s out there already — wearing masks, hand-washing, and trying to stay away from the large group activities, unfortunately, because this is where it’s spreading,” she said. “Last year, we had a really healthy year when everybody was following all those rules, and where people are a little more lax about it this year, we’re seeing a lot of illness already.”

Tilton, the nurse in Harrisville and Nelson, said she empathizes with families who continue to find COVID-19 protocols difficult to navigate.

“I know how hard this is for families as I have my own family as well and we have been struggling to make it through this challenging time right there with everyone,” she said in an email. “My hope is that we all can continue to try and be kind and understanding, knowing that we all are doing the best we can and we all have the same goal of keeping everyone healthy and safe.”

And as the academic year progresses, she added that communication between schools and families will continue to be paramount to maintaining a healthy educational environment.

“Accurate, honest, and open communication is so important while navigating our current situation,” she said. “One student coming to school sick can lead to a cascade of students and staff not being at school with new/unexplained symptoms, causing disruption in the lives of multiple families and many unhealthy, uncomfortable students.”

Community power era officially begins in New Hampshire

New Hampshire utilities have a new competitor — many of the municipalities they serve.

On Oct. 1, 13 towns and Cheshire County incorporated the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, but it’s more than a coalition that advocates for legislation and helps its members. It’s designed to act like a power broker, procuring and delivering energy over the utilities’ transmission lines, like any other energy supplier.

But there is one major difference. Under the new law, municipalities and counties can become the default power supplier for all of those currently on default electric service supplied by the utilities that currently serve New Hampshire customers: Eversource, Unitil, Liberty and the N.H. Electric Cooperative. Now, under the law, if a municipality or county passes a community power plan, every resident and business in it would be covered, unless they opt out. Customers already getting their electricity from a different supplier would have to opt in.

That means a good chunk of the 210,000 residents of those municipalities, which include Dover, Nashua and Lebanon, may be getting their power though community power.

That’s 15 percent of the state’s population. In terms of electric load, the coalition has the potential to be as big as Unitil. And other municipalities could join the group in the future.

But to have that clout, the governing body of the municipalities — which also include the towns of Hanover, Harrisville, Exeter, Rye, Warner, Walpole, Plainfield, Newmarket, Enfield and Durham — would have to vote for a plan and agree to continue to work with the coalition. Incorporation was a big step in that direction.

“This is the most exciting thing to happen to the electricity sector in New Hampshire in decades,” said state Consumer Advocate Don Kreis in a press release about the incorporation. And he later told N.H. Business Review, “It could finally deliver the benefits of restructuring residential customers.”

Kreis thinks the coalition’s clout will be able to do two things: drive down electricity prices and give an array of choices to customers who could “opt on,” such as getting all its energy from renewables, buying locally or using-time-of-day billing to cut usage and their bill. It also enables the towns themselves to become a supplier without having to go through net metering. Lebanon is the furthest along in this regard. It appropriated $2.85 million to develop a one-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy power plant, as well as solar arrays on the rooftops of a number of municipal buildings

That may due to the involvement of Cliff Below, Lebanon’s deputy mayor and a former state senator who helped write the 1996 electricity restructuring law and the primary author of the legislation enabling community power. He is also vice chair of the Community Power Coalition.

“Community power aggregation is a deliberate double entendre,” Below said in the press release. “We will be providing electric power in aggregate to our communities, with the goal of lowering costs and expanding access to renewable energy and other innovations. But the coalition also aggregates the political power of communities so their interests may be better represented in state policy decisions that impact energy.”

Each community power plan has to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, which still has to promulgate rules on how to do so. This process that has been stalled, along with many other processes at the PUC, as the state continues to set up the new Department of Energy, which will handle many PUC functions.

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Projects in Keene, Walpole draw focus at hearing on NH transportation plan
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At a meeting this week with state transportation officials, a local planning commission recommended about $4 million of federal funds be allocated to two Keene projects, while money to repair Vilas Bridge in Walpole remains elusive.

About 20 people gathered at the Keene Recreation Center Tuesday for a public hearing about the state’s latest draft of its Ten-Year Transportation Plan, which covers 2023 through 2032.

The 10-year roadmap is updated every two years and outlines transportation-related projects and programs across New Hampshire to be supported by state and federal funding. This work includes rehabilitating bridges, developing sidewalks and bike lanes, and paving roads.

Several Monadnock Region municipalities have projects in the draft plan, including Alstead, Antrim, Charlestown, Harrisville, Keene, Marlow, Peterborough, Richmond, Swanzey and Troy.

Tuesday’s hearing — one of more than 20 scheduled throughout the state — was facilitated by Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, and N.H. DOT Assistant Commissioner and Chief Engineer William Cass. In a presentation about the plan, DOT official Peter Stamnas said the Federal Highway Administration is the largest source of funding for the listed projects, with additional federal dollars from programs like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

For each new 10-year plan, the DOT allocates $50 million in federal funds for regional priority projects, determined by the state’s nine planning commissions. The amount each commission has to work with is determined by an area’s population and its miles of road eligible for federal funding.

The Southwest Region Planning Commission’s recommendations will inform how $4.29 million of those allocated funds will be used. At Tuesday’s public hearing, J.B. Mack, principal planner, said the commission recommends putting that money toward reconstruction and development projects along N.H. Route 101 and West Street in Keene.

In the spring of 2020, the commission — a Keene-based public planning agency required by state statute that supports local municipal development — reached out to the 33 communities under its jurisdiction, seeking project nominations. Those nominations were evaluated by the Southwest Region Planning Commission’s Transportation Advisory Committee based on 15 criteria, ranging from economic impact to safety measures, Mack said.

The Route 101 project would span from the Stone Arch Bridge to Branch Road. The highway needs a new base, Mack said, and the project scope includes widening the shoulders and addressing the sight issues at the intersection with Swanzey Factory Road.

This project was included in the previous 10-year plan, with construction set to begin in 2027, but funding has come up about half a million dollars short, so the commission is recommending that $500,000 of its $4.29 million allocation go toward addressing that gap. Under the current draft plan, construction is still scheduled to start in 2027.

The rest of the planning commission’s allocation would go toward what Mack described as a “complete street retrofit” of West Street, which he said would make it safer for pedestrians. If funded, construction for the project — which was not included in any previous 10-year plan — would start in 2032, according to Mack.

The project area spans from Routes 9, 12 and 10 to School Street, and within that area are five traffic signals, according to Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, who spoke during Tuesday’s public comment session.

“... These traffic signals are aged and have been creating all sorts of traffic issues over the years. Being over 30 years old, they definitely need some updating,” she said, adding that there are minimal pedestrian and bicycle facilities in that area.

Voices for Vilas

Following the presentations, members of the public were invited to share their thoughts on the draft plan. Hot topics included the rehabilitation of Vilas Bridge, which has been closed since 2009 and connects Walpole to Bellows Falls; municipal road maintenance and preservation in rural areas, particularly after the region’s heavy summer rainfall; the high number of red-listed bridges in the area; the lack of public transportation in the region; and improving and developing local rail trails.

The Vilas Bridge project was included in the previous 10-year plan with construction anticipated to begin in 2028. The bridge is also included in the current draft plan with the same construction start date.

“To leave this continuously adrift is, I consider, a mistake,” said N.H. Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat whose district covers Walpole and much of Cheshire County.

Cass, the DOT assistant commissioner and chief engineer, explained that while the state has allocated highway funds to cover 50 percent of the bridge’s rehabilitation, the remaining half has not yet been secured.

In addition to her own statement, Cheryl Mayberry, chairwoman of the Walpole selectboard, read statements from two other board members, Peggy Pschirrer and Steven Dalessio. They said Vilas Bridge facilitates economic exchanges between Walpole and Bellows Falls, and all three mentioned that a sewer line that extends from Walpole to the Bellows Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant runs below the bridge and risks damage as the bridge deteriorates.

“... [We] are greatly concerned about the impact line failure would have on the communities below us that rely on the Connecticut River water supply,” Mayberry said.

“Rehabilitation of the bridge may not have a huge impact on regional transportation because of the Arch Bridge,” she said, referencing a bridge less than a mile upstream, “but perhaps there are other infrastructure resources to help fund the bridge repair and mitigate any potential environmental concerns related towards the underlying sewer line.”

In their own statements, her fellow selectboard members also said that, because of where state borders lie, New Hampshire would be responsible for most of the cleanup associated with a sewer-line break.

That state border is also, in part, why funding the bridge’s rehabilitation is difficult, Mack said. Because of where that boundary lies, New Hampshire would bear most of the expense.

But even if the local planning commission had allocated its full $4.29 million to this project, it wouldn’t be enough to cover costs, which are currently estimated at $17.7 million, according to Mack.

Similar public hearings as the one held in Keene Tuesday are scheduled across the state. In November, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation, composed of the five executive councilors and the DOT commissioner, will make any amendments to the plan before submitting it to the governor for review.

Another local public hearing will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the Jaffrey Fire Station meeting and training room at 138 Turnpike Road.

People who can’t attend the meeting can submit written comments by Nov. 8 to William E. Watson, P.E., Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance, New Hampshire Department of Transportation John O. Morton Building, 7 Hazen Drive, P.O. Box 483, Concord, NH 03302-0483.