OSSIPEE, N. H. — Three persons accused of causing the death of their landlord who suffered a heart attack while arguing with them over $80 in back rent face trial today in an unprecedented application of New Hampshire's negligent homicide law.
The prosecutor will try to prove that the three knew that their 56-year-old landlord had a coronary condition when they got into an argument that led to the fatal seizure.
The case has created national interest, especially among legal scholars, because the negligent homicide statute under which the three are charged normally is used in motor vehicle cases, such as drunk driving.
Issue of Deadly Force
Perley Ryder, 28; Lynda Ryder, 32, and Daniel Moody, 19, face a penalty of 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison if convicted in Donald Dodier's death. Jury selection for their trial begins today in Carroll County Superior Court. A juvenile is being tried separately.
County Atty. William Payne has said the case revolves around the question of what qualifies as deadly force--"Do you have to have physical contact to commit a homicide?"
New Hampshire criminal law recognizes "intentional infliction of emotional distress" and defines deadly force as any assault or confrontation known "to create a substantial risk of causing death. . . ."
Negligence must entail "gross deviation" from normal conduct, such as an intoxicated driver speeding through warning and stop signs in a school zone and striking children in a crosswalk.
Applies to Neighbors' Quarrel?
But the defense attorney, Harvey Garod, asks: "Does this mean that if neighbors get into an argument . . . about a trespassing dog and one has a heart attack, that this is negligent homicide?"
Legal experts have found no citations about a person literally argued to death, although there are convictions on record for harassing a frail elderly person and causing a fatal heart attack. But those cases involve the more serious charges of manslaughter or murder.
The indictment in Carroll County, in the northeast part of the state near the Maine border, says Dodier died of a heart attack while arguing with the Ryders and Moody over back rent and the removal of a shed from his property.
The indictment charges that the Ryders and Moody provoked the argument and Dodier's death, with one of them grabbing Dodier by the shoulder.