Charges dropped in fatal 1989 N.H. arson fire

The case remains open in the fire that killed a family of four; the accused allegedly bragged of setting the fire

The New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER, N.H. — After 3 1/2 years behind bars, accused killer David B. McLeod walked out of Cheshire County House of Corrections a free man Thursday after the state dropped all murder charges against him.

State prosecutors said they decided not to retry McLeod, 57, in April because — absent any new evidence or legal avenues — it would result in another mistrial. He had been arrested in 2010 for allegedly setting a fire in a Keene apartment building in 1989 that killed a family of four.

The state nol prossed — or dismissed — the four charges of reckless second-degree murder charges against McLeod in Cheshire County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice K. Rundles said.

McLeod, who had been held without bail, was released from the correctional facility later in the day.

Rundles said the investigation continues and the case remains open, noting there is no statute of limitations on a homicide case.

"The amount of work that we did is really kind of irrelevant. I feel bad for the victims and the victims' family. The blow, I'm sure, is more devastating to them than to anyone," Rundles said.

McLeod is accused of setting fire to the 89 High St. apartment building, killing newlyweds Carl and Lori Hina, their 4-month-old daughter, Lillian Hina, and Sara Hina, Carl's 12-year-old daughter. McLeod moved to California shortly after the Jan. 14, 1989, fire.

Twenty-one years later, a cold case investigation resulted in his arrest on the murder charges on June 30, 2012. McLeod was returned to New Hampshire.

McLeod allegedly bragged about setting fire to the apartment house, where his ex-girlfriend also lived. According to court records, McLeod was jealous that his former girlfriend, Wanda Ford, was dating other men.

McLeod stood trial in Cheshire County Superior Court on the murder charges in late 2013.

The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict; a mistrial was declared. A second trial was set for this April.

In a statement Thursday, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster said the decision not to retry McLeod was based on an extensive review.

"After considering all those factors, especially the trial court's rulings and the information obtained from the jurors, it became clear to the state that a different outcome after a second trial was highly unlikely," Foster wrote.

The case involved lengthy pre-trial litigation, including a 2011 appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, before it went to trial.

The state said a ruling that statements made by a key witness, Sandra Walker, were inadmissible at trial was a setback for the prosecution. Walker died from cancer after the fire.


(c)2014 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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