NORTH HAVERHILL — Britany Barron wore a red jail uniform, shackles and a solemn expression in Grafton County Superior Court on Monday as she admitted her actions after Keene resident Jonathan Amerault was killed in 2020.
Barron, 32, of Jaffrey, entered guilty pleas on three counts of falsifying physical evidence before Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein. The pleas are part of an agreement with prosecutors, which will offer Barron a reduced sentence in exchange for her cooperation with the state and continuing good behavior.
During Monday’s plea hearing, Barron acknowledged that she had attempted to clean and conceal Amerault’s car, hide his body, and that she had removed his head, previously saying that she was following her husband’s orders. Her husband, Armando Barron, 31, has been charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting Amerault, 25, to death in Rindge during the overnight hours between Sept. 19 and 20, and with assaulting his wife just before doing so.
Britany Barron has also been charged with two counts of abusing a corpse, misdemeanor charges that would be dropped under the conditions of her deal.
Her attorney, Richard Guerriero, who has argued that his client was under severe duress during Amerault’s slaying and acted out of fear of her husband, said he feels the plea agreement is reasonable.
“She fully accepts responsibility for what she did, and we believe this is a fair agreement for both sides,” Guerriero said after the hearing.
Under the terms of the agreement, Britany Barron could be looking at as little as 1½ years in jail, which would include time served. She has been incarcerated in Grafton County since late September, just days after Amerault’s body was discovered in northern New Hampshire.
The deal is contingent upon Britany Barron complying with the state’s terms, including that she stay out of further legal trouble and continue to cooperate with authorities, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati.
Asked whether the plea deal took into consideration the abuse that authorities say Britany Barron endured from her husband just before Amerault was killed, Agati said that prosecutors acted in accordance with the law.
“The state felt that it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knowingly did these actions,” he said. “Those are the charges and that’s what the law requires us to bring forward.”
According to police, Armando Barron killed Amerault after using his wife’s phone to lure him to Annett Wayside Park in Rindge after discovering text messages between the two. Agati said in court Monday that Britany Barron had told her husband in early September that she wanted a divorce and that she and Amerault were in the “very beginning stages” of forming a romantic relationship.
Britany Barron and Amerault were both employees at Teleflex Medical in Jaffrey. Barron quit her job there the same day Amerault was reported missing, according to a Sept. 24 affidavit from N.H. State Police.
In the affidavit, State Police Sgt. Stephen Sloper wrote that Britany Barron said her husband assaulted her after discovering the texts between her and Amerault, both in their home and while they were in their vehicle heading to the scene of the killing. Once there, she said her husband ordered her to kill Amerault, but she refused, and Armando Barron shot Amerault himself, according to the affidavit.
With her husband traveling in a separate car, she said she then drove Amerault’s body north to an unincorporated area of Coos County, where they set up camp and attempted to conceal evidence, Sloper wrote. Armando Barron then returned to Jaffrey, leaving his wife alone at the campsite, the affidavit states.
A Coos County Superior Court judge denied Britany Barron’s request for bail earlier this year, saying he felt prosecutors had shown that if released, she would be a threat to the community. Guerriero, her attorney, had argued that she had acted under duress, while prosecutors said she had multiple opportunities to seek assistance, but did not seize them.
Though Amerault’s parents, who were present for Monday’s hearing by phone, did not speak during the proceedings, Agati read a statement from them expressing disappointment in the plea deal. They took issue with Britany Barron’s failure to seek help despite encountering several people who could have aided her, including hunters who found her at the campsite as well as N.H. Fish and Game officers who responded to a concerned call from the hunters and found Amerault’s remains.
“For every single time that she was offered help but refused it, hours and days went by causing the authorities great difficultly and causing everyone in Jonathan’s extended circle of family and friends and colleagues days of agony while he was missing,” they said in the statement. “She was offered so many opportunities to stop the madness, but she refused every time.”
Britany Barron is due back in court for sentencing on Oct. 6.
SWANZEY CENTER — Thomas and Amelia Carlyle rode their bikes up to Monadnock Regional Middle/High School Monday morning as Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” bellowed from school speakers, and staff members stood on the roof showering arriving students in green and gold confetti.
Amid the celebratory atmosphere — which teachers and administrators organized for the first day of school — the siblings shared a quiet moment. Thomas, a 9th-grader, helped his younger sister lock her bike before heading inside for her first day at a new school, where she is in 7th grade.
Amelia, who attended Cutler Elementary School in West Swanzey through last year, said she was a little nervous, but excited, to join her brother at the middle/high school.
“I’ll just really be nervous about trying new things, because I haven’t really tried a lot of new things,” she said. “I’m really excited about learning new stuff.”
Amelia’s feelings matched the mood of the morning, according to Principal Lisa Spencer, who said she is enthusiastic that Monadnock is opening the year with all students in class. The district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — operated under a hybrid model for most of last year.
“[I’m] excited, there’s a lot of positive energy right now with the beginning of school,” Spencer said. “Everybody is excited — nervous, but excited. So, I think [everyone is] just feeling really good about having them all back together, to start that way.”
Faith Figueroa, a junior from North Swanzey, said opening the year with full in-person classes makes school feel somewhat normal again.
“I think it’s going to be definitely just another exciting year because we didn’t have a normal year last year,” Faith said. “So, just getting used to everything, I think it’s going to be a good year.”
Superintendent Lisa Witte agreed, saying the first day of school “feels more normal than not,” despite some continued COVID-19 protocols like masking and social distancing.
The Monadnock school board voted earlier this month to require masks in school whenever community transmission levels of COVID-19 are moderate or higher. Like every other New Hampshire county, Cheshire is currently experiencing substantial transmission, the highest of the state’s three tiers measuring community spread, according to the state health department.
“Everybody’s tired of wearing masks,” Witte said. “That’s not a secret. But everybody, from my perspective, understands that this is a means to an end, that this is hopefully temporary. We don’t know how long it will be temporary. And if we have to make adjustments along the way, I’m confident that everyone will be patient and flexible, because they have been for the past year and a half.”
Along with the indoor mask mandate, Spencer said Monadnock’s middle/high school is maintaining thorough cleaning practices and encouraging teachers to have class outdoors as much as possible. Like last year, students won’t have access to their lockers to reduce crowding in hallways, Spencer said, but in a change from 2020-21, middle- and high-schoolers will eat lunch at tables in the cafeteria, rather than individual desks.
“We’re limiting how many kids go at each table, but it was really important to us for them to be able to get that social aspect that lunch provides while distancing them,” she said, adding that the tables, which can hold up to eight students, will be capped at four to maintain at least 3 feet of distance.
These sorts of coronavirus precautions make Emily Lang, a senior from Troy, feel safe, though she said she would have preferred a more complete return to normal on her last first day of high school.
“I’m definitely disappointed that COVID is still a thing and we have to wear masks and everything, especially since I’m vaccinated,” Emily said. “But I think it’s still going to be fine anyways, if everyone follows the rules.”
Clayton Kulczyk was also a bit disheartened by the health and safety measures still in place, but he said they didn’t dampen the excitement of the first day too much.
“It’s certainly exciting to be back,” Clayton, a junior from Richmond, said. “Obviously, you have to wear the mask, and that takes a little bit of the fun away, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But it’s going to be nice to see friends again.”
Clayton spent most of last year learning remotely, which he said made it difficult to spend time with his peers.
“But I’m staying in this year, so it’s going to be nice,” he said.
As the new school year progresses, Emily added that she hopes her life, and senior year, will continue to regain a sense of normalcy.
“I’m really looking forward to finally being able to maybe go visit colleges, if they open up, and definitely the prom this year,” she said. “It was really great last year, and I think that by springtime we’ll finally have everything under control to make it even better.”
And while Monday marked the first day of classes for the Monadnock district, schools held a “soft opening” for three days last week, providing families and staff the chance to begin building relationships and helping students readjust to their school routines.
“I think it just sets a good foundation for the rest of the year, and being able to continue to have good communication,” Witte said. “But I especially think with COVID, it just helps everybody to feel comfortable coming back into the building, getting used to the environment.”
Schools throughout the Monadnock Region are returning to class this week, including N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland, and begins Wednesday. The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District was supposed to start today, but has delayed the first day of school by a week to give the district time to address damage to its facilities from recent flooding and humidity.
If Heidi Heath was in charge of measuring COVID-19’s toll, she’d do more than count cases, hospitalizations and deaths. She’d share “long hauler” stories like her own.
“Keeping people alive is not the only measure of success,” said Heath, 38, of Exeter, whose long bout with COVID-19 began 17 months ago with flu and strep throat-like symptoms and continues today with chronic pain that has prevented her from resuming running. “People can get sick and never recover.”
Heath worries she’s one of them and fears for others given that about 40 percent of eligible Granite Staters are still not fully vaccinated. “One of the really hard things about this is reckoning with the reality that I’m living in the world as a chronically ill person,” said Heath, who had asthma but no other serious health problems before COVID-19. “Do not assume that this can’t happen to you.”
An estimated 10 to 30 percent of COVID-19 patients develop “long COVID” symptoms, which are defined as symptoms that last more than 12 weeks after the acute illness. The most common are fatigue, especially after minor exertion; cough or shortness of breath; difficulty thinking and concentrating; depression and anxiety; muscle aches; rapid heart rate and palpitations; and headaches.
Nurse practitioner and infectious disease specialist Christina Martin has treated patients as young as 18 through her work at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Post-Acute COVID Syndrome Clinic, the state’s only program for people living with long COVID-19. The clinic has received about 300 referrals from New Hampshire and neighboring states. After evaluating patients, the treatment team matches them with medical specialists based on their symptoms. For some, that’s a cardiologist. For others, it’s an occupational therapist or neurologist. But it’s never a cure because while the symptoms are known, the illness remains poorly understood.
Most studies have focused on the unvaccinated, who make up nearly 98 percent of COVID-19 cases. However, early research indicates the small percentage of vaccinated people who develop “breakthrough” cases can also develop symptoms of long COVID-19. Still, medical experts say the best protection against long COVID-19 is vaccination and continued mask wearing.
“I find that most of my job is to validate that what they’re experiencing is real,” Martin said. “And in that, we can support them either through physical support or mental support. They say, ‘I feel better having talked to you. I feel like this is real, that I’m not crazy.’ I think that that in and of itself is really helpful.”
Like Heath, Kythryne Aisling of Concord contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, before a vaccine was available. And like Heath, she struggled to find a health care provider who recognized her lingering shortness of breath, exhaustion, and weakness as signs of long COVID-19. She joined thousands of other early long haulers and joined online support groups. She was one of about 3,000 members of the Long COVID Support Group on Facebook last year. Today, nearly 43,000 people have joined.
“I joked with a friend of mine who had COVID a week ahead of me that we were crowdsourcing our medical care,” she said. “The doctors aren’t believing us. Let’s try to research this as best we can as laypeople.”
Aisling said many of her symptoms still plague her to the point where she has “bad days” about 70 percent of the time. As a jewelry designer, Aisling is able to work around those bad days. “My customers don’t care if I work at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m.,” she said.
She considers herself lucky that not only did she avoid hospitalization but had already learned to live with intense and lingering pain as a brain cancer survivor and migraine sufferer. “I’m used to being in a body that doesn’t work right,” she said.
Aisling empathizes with people who are hesitating to get vaccinated for fear of side effects. “Yes, but it’s so much less bad than actually having COVID,” she said.
Monique Raymond of Newmarket just started her graduate work in integrative and organismal biology at the University of New Hampshire. She’s grateful for the university’s indoor mask policy and testing protocols.
Raymond, 30, and her husband got COVID-19 around Thanksgiving, but her extreme fatigue and body aches lingered. Her symptoms are far less frequent now but can be triggered by stress, a cold, or eating and drinking certain things.
But she wonders for how long. Raymond has a pre-existing autoimmune disorder. “My biggest fear is that this is a catalyst for another disorder or disease,” she said.
Hillside Village Keene, the Wyman Road retirement community dealing with a financial crunch due to low enrollment, will likely be sold to an Illinois-based nonprofit that runs similar facilities nationwide, officials announced Monday.
The deal between the Prospect-Woodward Home — the Keene nonprofit that opened Hillside Village in 2019 — and Covenant Living Communities & Services in Skokie, Ill., is set to be finalized as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, according to a news release from the two organizations.
Hillside Village filed that case Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Hampshire in order to execute its sale to Covenant Living, the news release states. The two entities have already concluded a purchase agreement, though other bidders for the sprawling retirement community would still be considered in federal bankruptcy proceedings, it states.
Covenant Living would pay $33 million for Hillside Village, court filings show.
Known as a “lifecare community,” the 222-unit facility offers a full continuum of health care — from rehabilitative services to 24-hour nursing care — and employs nearly 150 people.
Citing financial troubles due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Hillside Village officials announced in February that the organization was looking for a buyer and would likely file for Chapter 11 — a process that allows it to restructure bond obligations with court approval instead of permission from all of its bondholders.
The cash crunch, which the officials attributed to having paused new move-ins and site visits during the pandemic, caused Prospect-Woodward to miss a bond payment worth nearly $2 million on the community last winter, they said. OnePoint Partners, a national senior-care consultant hired to help navigate Hillside Village’s financial situation, determined that the organization needed a cash infusion to remain viable, OnePoint Managing Director Tom Brod told The Sentinel earlier this year.
Hillside Village residents pay an entrance fee that ranges from about $217,000 to $665,000, depending on the size of their apartment and their eligibility for a refund if they leave, as well as a monthly fee that averages $4,500, Brod said. Nearly a quarter of its 140 independent-living units were vacant in February, he said at the time.
“We don’t have the reserves that we had planned on because we didn’t get the entrance fees,” he said. “And now we don’t have the ongoing revenue that we had planned on because we don’t have a high enough occupancy.”
Prospect-Woodward considered a number of bids for Hillside Village before inviting six organizations to visit the facility, Brod said Monday. After narrowing that group down further, he said officials selected Covenant Living, a faith-based organization that operates 18 senior-living facilities around the country.
“This really is very good news,” Brod said, adding that Covenant Living has agreed to honor all Hillside Village residents’ contracts and employee compensation. “They’re intending on maintaining the quality if not even making it better.”
A ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church dating to 1886, Covenant Living serves 5,500 residents at retirement communities in nine states, according to the news release Monday. Those include facilities in California, Florida and Illinois, as well as one in Cromwell, Conn.
“We are excited about the potential of acquiring Hillside Village Keene as Covenant Living and Hillside Village Keene leadership have similar values and a mission of serving older adults,” Covenant Living President and CEO Terri Cunliffe said in the release. “Covenant Living is committed to providing its residents with an environment that promotes active and engaging lifestyles.”
Hillside Village officials expect operations at the facility to continue undisturbed during the bankruptcy proceedings, according to the news release.
Brod said Monday that he anticipates Hillside Village will be auctioned in that case in late October or early November. At that point, other organizations will be able to bid for the community but would need to offer more than Covenant Living, he said. If approved by the court, the facility’s acquisition by Covenant Living will require state regulators’ approval, he said.
Hillside Village’s financial troubles prompted a lawsuit in May from an elderly Peterborough couple who said Prospect-Woodward hadn’t reimbursed them more than $400,000 for an entrance fee they said they’re owed after moving out of the retirement community last year.
A financial adviser with OnePoint Partners has said that Prospect-Woodward can’t return those funds until resolving its financial situation, however. Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled in June that the organization must return $403,200 to the couple once it stabilizes its finances, if not earlier.
Acknowledging that the pandemic kept Hillside Village from reaching high enrollment numbers, Nancy Crawford, the chairwoman of its board of trustees, said Monday that health protocols at the facility worked as intended. (Though like many senior-living facilities, Hillside Village dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak when at least 23 residents and staff contracted the virus, and one person died, late last year, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.)
“All our efforts during the many months of mandated quarantine were directed to keeping residents safe from the devastating and contagious virus,” she said in the news release. “And in that regard, we were quite successful.”