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Relatives in Salem blast case will speak at sentencing

2012-12-12T15:51:00Z Relatives in Salem blast case will speak at sentencingDON LEHMAN - Glens Falls Post-Star
December 12, 2012 3:51 pm  • 

FORT EDWARD -- Steven McComsey will hear Thursday from a number of relatives of the people who died in the 2011 home explosion in which he pleaded guilty.

The question is how many will be allowed to speak during McComsey’s sentencing, and how long they will be allowed to go.

Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan will meet before the proceeding with those who have asked the court to give victims impact statements to determine who will have the opportunity, according to the Washington County District Attorney’s Office.

Judges generally allow one speaker per case, but the law does give them leeway to make exceptions, depending on the seriousness of the case.

“There are a lot of people who want to speak,” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said.

McComsey will also be given the opportunity to make a statement.

Increased security will be in place in light of concerns for McComsey’s safety. A number of relatives of the victims have made comments that they believe the prison sentence that will probably be imposed in the case is insufficient in light of the number of deaths from the blast.

There likely won’t be any surprises when Judge Kelly McKeighan imposes sentence.

McComsey agreed to a plea deal that will include a 1- to 3-year prison sentence, and McKeighan’s ability to deviate from that term is limited without giving McComsey the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea.

Despite his guilty plea to criminally negligent homicide, he entered a so-called “Alford Plea” in which he didn’t admit the underlying allegations but acknowledged there was likely sufficient evidence for a conviction.

His lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, said afterward that McComsey maintained he was innocent but took the plea deal to avoid the possibility of a lengthier prison term for second-degree manslaughter. McComsey had been indicted on six manslaughter counts, but they were dropped as part of the plea deal.

The charges focused on the July 13, 2011, deaths of six people and injuries to five others when the Route 29 Salem home where they had gathered exploded. McComsey and his girlfriend lived there, and the explosion was linked to propane gas that McComsey was blamed for releasing from a spare tank into the basement of the home.

Killed were his girlfriend, Tammy Palmer, 41; as well as Clarissa Porlier, 19; Darrell Durham, 20; Durham’s 2-month-old daughter, Niah Lynn Durham; Lawrence Berg II, 19; and Robert Sanford Jr., 16.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Thursday.

McComsey was charged last week with misdemeanor promoting prison contraband for possessing tobacco in Washington County Jail, and Kortright said he pleaded guilty to that charge Tuesday in Fort Edward Town Court. He was sentenced to 9 months in Washington County Jail, which will be served concurrently with the prison sentence in the explosion case.

His girlfriend, Jennifer T. Box, 26, of Johnsburg, was charged Tuesday with a misdemeanor count of introducing contraband to a correctional facility, a misdemeanor, for allegedly bringing the package of smoking tobacco in for McComsey, Washington County sheriff’s Investigator Bruce Hamilton said. She was released, pending prosecution in Fort Edward Town Court.

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