CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The New Hampshire Supreme Court says an Epping man can be tried for murder in the death of his former girlfriend, who lingered in a vegetative state for 15 years after he beat and strangled her.

Walter Hutchinson, 51, has served more than 15 years in prison for the attempted murder of Kimberly Ernest in 1991 and would have been eligible for parole last year. But prosecutors charged him with murder after Ernest died in 2005.

Hutchinson argued that prosecuting him for murder would amount to being tried twice for the same crime. But the state Supreme Court rejected that argument Friday and sent the case back to Rockingham County Superior Court.

The court said there are well-established exceptions to double jeopardy laws in cases such as Hutchinson’s.

“We conclude, under the circumstances of this case, that the societal interest in prosecuting this defendant for an alleged homicide completed after his initial trial outweighs the defendant’s interest in finality,” the court wrote.

The court cited a 1912 case in which a man previously convicted of assault and battery was charged with murder when his victim died. In that case, the court ruled that the two crimes did not contain all the same elements – the defendant could not be tried for murder until the man died, and therefore, the murder charge contained an element that the assault charge did not.

Hutchinson’s lawyer argued that the court should reject the old case because new standards have since emerged. but the court found now reason to abandon the case’s guidance.

Information from: Concord Monitor,

AP-ES-03-08-08 1201EST

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