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<B>Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright calls on a jury Thursday to convict Matthew Slocum of arson and three counts of murder. The jury deliberated for about two hours before returning guilty verdicts on all charges. (Peter Crabtree)</B>
Friday March 9, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. -- A Washington County jury found Matthew A. Slocum guilty Thursday of all charges, including murder and arson, in the shooting deaths of his mother, stepfather and stepbrother last July in White Creek.

District Attorney Kevin Kortright said afterward that there was "no doubt" in his mind the jury made the right determination, and he complimented the interagency response in July for bringing Slocum to justice.

Kortright said Slocum's own statements proved the weightiest evidence against him. "He kept making the same statements. He admitted it to police, he admitted it to (child protective services). He admitted to people in jail that he did it."

The jury heard testimony from all of the above over the course of the two-week trial in Fort Edward. Jurors spent approximately two hours deliberating before the verdict was reached. Immediately following the announcement, a member of the victims' family yelled out, "Rot in hell, coward," and the courtroom erupted in applause. Outside, family members said justice had been served.

During closing summations that morning, attorneys for both sides presented starkly contrasting accounts of what happened July 13, 2011, at 118 Turnpike Road, where in the pre-dawn hours Slocum shot his mother Lisa Harrington, 44, stepfather Dan Harrington, 41, and stepbrother Joshua O'Brien, 24, as they slept. The residence was then set on fire.

Slocum, 24, admitted to arson while on the stand. But his defense maintained throughout the trial that his girlfriend, Loretta Colegrove, was the one responsible for murder. Kortright said law enforcement did identify her as a suspect before ruling her out. "I don't believe she had anything to do with it. She helped pack the car. She didn't have any choice in it," Kortright said after the verdict.

The last witness called to testify, Slocum took the stand Wednesday and admitted to starting the fire. But he also testified that he witnessed Colegrove commit the final shooting. His public defender, Michael Mercure, repeated testimony Thursday from Slocum that Colegrove then turned the gun on him, before subsequently giving him a hug.

Mercure called that hug a "defining moment," after which Slocum's "instinct kicked in" to protect his son, and the mother of his child. Mercure maintained that Colegrove had opportunities to flee after she and Slocum left the scene with their then-4-month-old son. "She never asked for help," he said, while at her parents' house in Adams, Mass., several pawn shops, and a Hannaford grocery store in New Hampshire.

"She didn't cover up the baby and yell, ‘Help, help me. There's a murderer here.' She never said that."

During closing arguments, Mercure produced Colegrove's blood-stained blue tank top shirt and called it the "smoking gun."

During summations, Kortright asked why, if innocent, Slocum didn't run from Colegrove. He said Colegrove went with Slocum because he forced her to, using the defendant's own words -- "she knew better than to argue with me at that point" -- which Slocum told investigators after being taken into custody.

Kortright said Mercure mis-read testimony from Tom Martin, a blood spatter expert called to the stand Monday, and said Martin's testimony indicated Colegrove's blue shirt did not show "blood back-spatter," from blood spraying back on the shooter. He said Slocum left the scene shirtless; the shirt he wore that night destroyed in the fire.

On the stand March 1, Colegrove testified to being in a physically and verbally abusive relationship. "Why didn't she run? ... She told you, ‘I tried to run once, he ran me down and pulled my hair.' She was wearing flip flops," said Kortright on closing. "She did run, as soon as she thought her and the baby were safe. ... Police said come out with your hands up. ... She's going out that door."

The prosecution's case began and concluded with testimony from the two state police investigators who testified to Slocum's admission of guilt shortly after being taken in custody. Kortright closed by reiterating that confession, and additional statements Slocum made on the stand and while in jail, according to testimony earlier this week from a corrections officer and a fellow inmate of Slocum's.

Mercure said statements by Slocum in jail that he shouted "I'm a murderer" were taken out of context. "He went up to the window and was yelling I'm a murderer, not a sex offender. ... It doesn't make him a murderer."

"Don't you go to those bars and say I'm an innocent man?" Kortright asked jurors later. "Over and over again, not just to police but to the people he trusted in jail. He admits to it. He admits, ‘I killed them.'"

Kortright read letters Slocum wrote to his brother and Colegrove while in jail, in which he apologized.

"You've heard of he said, she said cases? This is a he said, she said case," said Kortright. "He said he did it, and so does Loretta Colegrove."

"Who told you he stole Dan Harrington's guns? ... Pawned Lisa Harrington's jewelry ... Lisa Harrington's Mustang? Who told his mother, ‘I could burn your house down?' ... Who told you he burned his mother's house down? The defendant Matthew Slocum."

Kortright said there was "really no decision" for jurors but a guilty verdict.

Mercure conveyed similar conviction during closing arguments.

"There's really no question who murdered those three people," he said.

Slocum was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder, first-degree arson, tampering with physical evidence, criminal possession of a weapon, and petit larceny. He faces a sentence of up to 75 years to life. Sentencing is scheduled for later this month.

Contact @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or ewright@benningtonbanner.com.