NASHUA, N.H. – You never really know what a right-to-know request – or a motion to unseal documents – will turn up.
When The Telegraph filed a motion with the Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester to unseal documents prior to Steven Spader’s second sentencing hearing we expected to learn more about Spader.
We did, but we also learned a lot more about Spader’s life at home before the Oct.9, 2009 murder of Kimberly Cates and even more about his adoptive parents’ herculean efforts to save their boy.
We learned a little bit more about the tragic failures of the state’s mental health system. We also learned Spader has a child of his own.
Judge Gillian Abramson granted the paper’s motion to unseal the documents over defense attorneys’ objections on July 29. The ream of documents included the depositions of two psychiatric experts and their reports, as well as depositions of Spader’s parents, Steven Jr. and Christine Spader.
Spader, his parents said, was a personable child. He was anxious, but loved playing with other kids in his neighborhood. He struggled more in school as he advanced into middle and high school. He complained about the stress of performing the very competitive Hollis-Brookline High School. He loved acting in the school’s drama productions. He shaved his head for the role of Daddy Warbucks.
But things began to turn around for Spader in his teens.
He acted out. He ran away many times. There were two incidents involving knives that didn’t result in injuries but were nonetheless violent.
His parents tried everything. They brought him to a platoon of psychiatrists and experts. They hired an advocate to make sure his school wrote him an Individualized Educational Plan. They sent him away to leadership and residential treatment camps in New York and Utah and spent thousands upon thousands to do so.
Nothing worked. Nothing worked and in October 2009 Spader killed Cates, a 42-year-old mother and nurse, and viciously attacked her then 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie.
That was a few months before his daughter was born, according to a letter his mother wrote and is included in the court documents unsealed in July. The girl was born in January 2010.
“(The mother) brought her to us when she was 5 days old. We all cried,” Christine Spader wrote in documents unsealed this week at Hillsborough County Superior Court. “Steve wrote us a letter begging us to see if he could see the baby and he would be the best father in the world. We sent him photos. (The mother) came to the trial one day. I think to say good-bye.”
Reading the documents isn’t what we expected. It wasn’t a submersion into the dark and haunted pathology of a cold-blooded killer. Spader instead appears pathetic.
Instead of the image of the stone faced murderer who asked his lawyers if they thought the jury would sing “Happy Birthday” and then calmly sipped his water as juror after juror declared him guilty, the picture of Spader is of a confused boy, unable to deal with the social and academic pressure of high school. A boy who told lies about how tough he was, who thought he was a “gangsta,” and somehow convinced others to commit a horrific crime and that they would somehow not only go free but kill more people and make lots of money.
The documents show Spader’s parents were desperate. They loved, and still love their son. They hugged him and kissed him and told them they loved him when he was little. They went on vacations. They tried everything to help him when he started to go off the rails in high school.
Now, his parents continue to support Spader. They talk on the phone often and visit him on Sundays. They send him books and money for the prison commissary. But they’re left wondering if they could have done more.
During a deposition after Spader was convicted, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin asked Spader’s father what he wished the judge would consider about his son. His response, similar to his wife’s, was about the state’s mental health system.
“You know, certainly the crime is just beyond the scope of my imagination. I mean, I feel for the families. But obviously we’ve tried to do a lot of stuff in the mental health area here in New Hampshire, and it’s been a serious letdown,” he said. “It’s just appalling how poor it is here in this state, just absolutely appalling.
“And you know, we’ve tried to do what we can. Could we have done more? I don’t know. That’s a question I keep asking myself.”