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Fight Over Hearsay Evidence, Dying Declaration Expected In Chambers Case

April 17, 1988 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ The freedom of a former Marlow police chief accused of killing his wife’s first husband could hinge on whether a statement made by the chief’s father just before his death will be admitted as evidence in court.

Robert Chambers, 36, was charged with second-degree murder Friday and spent the weekend in the Cheshire County Jail in Westmoreland after failing to make $200,000 bail. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

He was charged one month after authorities dug up the remains of Russell Bean, whose body was secretly buried in the chief’s yard 10 years ago.

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John B. Garvey, a Concord lawyer and former professor at Franklin Pierce Law School specializing in evidence, said the case may ″rise or fall on many of the judge’s rulings on admissibility of evidence.″

Attorney General Stephen Merrill said he expected Chambers’ defense to challenge the use of the father’s statement, but he said the prosecution had enough evidence to win a conviction even without the statement.

Bean’s remains were found buried 25 feet deep in Chambers’ yard on March 14. An autopsy showed he appeared to have been beaten with a blunt instrument on the head and chest.

Police acted after Chambers’ sister, Melissa, gave them a tip on March 10, the day after the death of her father, 61-year-old Clifton Chambers. Melissa Chambers said in affidavits that her father told her he had helped his son bury the body after Robert admitted accidentally killing Bean in a fight. She said her father told her to tell police the story upon his death.

Clifton Chambers’ granddaughter, Lorrie Wheeler, gave police a similar affidavit.

Public defender Mark Sisti, representing Chambers, said he would ″disagree strenuously″ with the use of the father’s statements as hearsay evidence.

In homicide cases, New Hampshire courts allow hearsay evidence to be admitted when it involves deathbed confessions.

But Sisti said the father’s statement would not qualify because it did not concern a person the father thought was causing his own death. Also, the lawyer said the father’s words weren’t a dying statement because he spoke to his daughter and granddaughter days before he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.

The state rules provide other exceptions for using hearsay evidence, but the defense could challenge it on the grounds that the father’s reliability as a witness cannot be tested and that Chambers cannot be granted his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser.

Merrill said he anticipates the state Supreme Court will settle the admissibility of the father’s statement.

″I feel very doubtful that Russell Bean would ever (have) been found″ without the father’s statement, Merrill said. But he said investigators, after talking to 15 or 20 people, have enough evidence to convict Chambers even without the declaration. He did not elaborate.

Bean, 25 when he was last seen in 1978, was a good friend of Chambers.

Chambers and his wife, Deborah, swapped partners with Bean and his wife, Sylvia, according to affadivits by Chambers’ brother-in-law, Louis LaCourse, and Melissa Chambers.

Sylvia divorced Bean after he disappeared and Chambers divorced Deborah, and then Sylvia and Chambers married. They separated after Bean’s remains were found. Sylvia has denied any wife-swapping.

Chambers has resigned as Marlow’s part-time chief and took a leave of absence as part-time chief of nearby Gilsum.