A year after an alleged shooting in Chesterfield led to a town resident’s arrest on attempted-murder charges, the case remains unresolved in court, with a hearing scheduled for early next year to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial.
Michael Connarn, 42, appeared in Cheshire County Superior Court via video-conference Monday for a hearing on questions related to the competency proceedings and his legal representation.
Prosecutors allege Connarn shot up a residential property on Zinn Road on Oct. 19, 2018, firing multiple rounds as the homeowner, Ty Zinn, and another man, Kevin Fluegge, fled into the woods.
Neither man was injured. Bullets hit parked vehicles and the side of the house, according to police.
Zinn told police that the incident began with an exchange on Zinn Road, during which Connarn complained Zinn was driving too fast. Zinn said as he drove away, he heard a gunshot and “floored it” home, according to an affidavit written by N.H. State Police Sgt. Shawn Skahan. Connarn then turned up at Zinn’s home and started firing, Zinn said, according to Skahan.
Connarn has been held without bail since his arrest that day, initially at the Cheshire County jail in Keene. He is now housed at N.H. State Prison’s Secure Psychiatric Unit.
Connarn’s public defenders raised the issue of mental competency in May and requested an evaluation, which triggers a process to determine whether a defendant is capable of understanding and participating in the legal proceedings against him.
A psychiatrist completed the evaluation, though statements by the lawyers and the judge in court Monday indicated Connarn had refused to participate in it. Judge David W. Ruoff called the doctor’s report “rather inconclusive” and said he had recently ordered a second evaluation by another psychiatrist at prosecutors’ request.
For prosecutors to take the case to trial, as they intend, they must first prove that Connarn is competent, according to Cheshire County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin. A hearing to determine competency is scheduled for Jan. 6.
Alex Parsons, one of Connarn’s lawyers, argued that a second evaluation is unnecessary.
“The doctor’s opinion is not based on nothing, not by a long shot,” Parsons told the judge. “We have multiple hospitalizations, we have multiple diagnoses for serious psychological issues, and we have a number of statements and actions, particularly his actions in regard to various attorneys.”
Parsons said any lawyer or judge looking at the facts would conclude that “there cannot be a finding by a preponderance of evidence of competence.”
The report itself is sealed, though Ruoff said the psychiatrist who authored it, Dr. Albert Drukteinis, did not issue a definitive opinion either way.
“He can’t say one way or the other whether [Connarn is] competent or not,” Ruoff said in court. “He does have a throwaway line in his report that says, ‘The evidence suggests he may be incompetent.’ I don’t know if that’s an opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.”
Connarn’s statements in a previous hearing indicate he disagreed with his lawyers’ choice to raise the competency issue. “It’s not up to the state whether I get due process or not,” he told Ruoff during an expletive-laden tirade in June.
Ruoff said Monday that the N.H. Office of the Forensic Examiner will conduct the second evaluation, likely within the next month.
Another issue raised Monday was legal representation, which Ruoff discussed privately with Connarn, Connarn’s mother, Parsons and Jennifer Cohen, another attorney from the N.H. Public Defender’s office. Connarn filed a motion earlier this month asking for new court-appointed representation, claiming there had been a “breakdown in relationship” with the public defenders.
After reopening the courtroom, Ruoff said he was inclined to keep the public defender’s office on the case at least through the January hearing on competency, unless new lawyers could rapidly be found and brought up to speed. The judge continued to talk about the process as Connarn yelled and insulted him from the video screen.
Connarn has already changed lawyers more than once. Sisti Law Offices, the firm that represented him at the start of the case, withdrew in April at Connarn’s request, according to court records. The public defender’s office was appointed in May and soon after filed its motion requesting a competency evaluation.
Connarn’s mother hired another attorney, Bruce E. Kenna, in June, but he withdrew from the case days later after Connarn directed him to do so at their first consultation, Kenna wrote in a motion. Whatever attorney-client relationship existed between him and Connarn “has irrevocably broken down as a result of circumstances evident during the June 5, 2019 consultation,” Kenna wrote, without further details.