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Not-guilty plea in 4 Winchester deaths

Defense says father’s mental health an issue

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / June 19, 2010

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WOBURN — A Winchester man charged in the brutal killing of his wife, two children, and mother-in-law pleaded not guilty yesterday in Woburn District Court, where his court-appointed attorney asked to be present at every psychological evaluation and said her client’s mental health will be an issue in the case.

Thomas J. Mortimer IV entered the courthouse with his head hanging low, surrounded by police and wearing a bulletproof vest. He was arraigned on four counts of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Laura Stone Mortimer, 41; her mother, Ragna Ellen Stone, 64; and his children, 2-year-old Charlotte and 4-year-old Thomas Mortimer V, known as Finn.

Supporting Mortimer in the courtroom were his parents, Sandra and Thomas Mortimer III, who had visited their son’s Winchester home as recently as Monday to babysit Finn and Charlotte. His parents separately praised the son they knew and spoke in his defense to reporters.

“He’s always been the nicest son and the nicest person,’’ Sandra Mortimer told the Globe before the proceedings.

“He is a good kid,’’ Mortimer’s father said after the brief hearing. Asked by a reporter whether he was shocked by the allegations against his son, he replied, “Who wouldn’t be?’’

During the 11-minute hearing, Mortimer wore a gray suit with no tie and appeared disheveled but emotionless as he stood, staring at the judge.

Judge James Barretto ordered Mortimer held without bail based on the gravity of the charges and his attempts to flee.

Mortimer, a 43-year-old software salesman who had no criminal record, was captured in Bernardston near the Vermont line on Thursday after leaving behind a note confessing to the killings, according to Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. The judge scheduled a probable cause hearing for Aug. 10.

Leone said Mortimer used “blunt force trauma and sharp objects’’ to kill his family.

Pointing to the possibility of an insanity plea, Mortimer’s lawyer, Denise Regan, sought an evaluation by well-known forensic psychiatrist Dr. Marc Whaley and said she wanted to be present at all future evaluations.

“It’s likely that mental health will be a live issue in this case,’’ said Regan, a staff attorney for the Committee on Public Counsel Services.

But Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Adrienne Lynch objected to the idea of Mortimer being evaluated only with his lawyer by his side, saying that would give the defense an insight into Mortimer’s mental status that would not be available to prosecutors in the months ahead.

“It is attempting to put a thumb on the scales of justice and press it right down to the other side,’’ Lynch said in court.

The judge allowed Regan to attend the first evaluation but has yet to decide how to go forward.

Regan declined to say whether she was seeking the evaluation out of concern over potential suicide. Leone told reporters Thursday there was evidence that Mortimer had tried to commit suicide at home before he left the scene.

Whether or not Mortimer does claim insanity, his lawyer would be expected to seek a prompt mental evaluation, said defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr., who has handled other high-profile family murder trials.

“Killing one’s family is never a rational act,’’ Carney said. “It can certainly be the result of a serious mental illness. The first step for a lawyer is to have her client examined by a doctor to determine if a mental illness is present. The closer in time to the incident that this evaluation occurs makes it much more reliable.’’

An insanity defense is only made after a lengthy psychiatric review and interviews with witnesses, a process that can take more than a year, Carney said. During that time, the prosecutors would not have any opportunity to get their own psychiatric evaluation of Mortimer, he said.

As the Stone family began making arrangements yesterday for services at Lane Funeral Home in Winchester, their friends and neighbors remained shocked and saddened by the killing of two toddlers, a mother, and a grandmother.

“When I think what’s happened to her and those two beautiful children and her daughter, it just made me sick to my stomach,’’ said Mark Billman, 63, who graduated from Winchester High School with Ellen Stone.

“She had a soft-spoken, very polite, very gentle manner,’’ said Billman. “She just had a warmth to her that was a very appealing.’’

The district attorney said Thursday that Mortimer confessed to the crime in letters left in his home with the victims’ bodies. Leone did not spell out a motive for the killings but said the couple had been having problems, mostly due to finances, unbeknownst to all but close relatives. Mortimer had been out of work for some time before recently finding a job in software sales in Burlington.

Friends are puzzled over how things could have gone so violently wrong in a family they assumed to be happy and intact.

Anthony Hanson, who became friends with Laura Stone Mortimer in their doctoral program in economics at Boston College, remembered when she met her husband. She felt so lucky to have found him, he said.

“Oh, no one could have been happier,’’ Hanson recalled. “Tom, she said, was the love of her life.’’

“These were the sort of people you love to have as your friends, neighbors, and co-workers,’’ he added. “That is why everyone can’t find the words to express the outrage.’’

Maria Cramer of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jack Nicas contributed to this report. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story gave the incorrect age for Mark Billman, who graduated from high school with one of the victims. Billman is 63.

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