LACONIA, N.H. (AP) – A judge is trying to decide if a law denying bail to a man charged with second-degree murder in the January beating death of his friend is constitutional.

Darryll M. Bifano, 37, has been held without bail at the Belknap County House of Corrections jail since his Jan. 10 arrest, four days after his friend and a fellow musician, Stephen Grodske, 59, was found brutally beaten to death in a cottage.

Bifano was indicted last month on alternate counts of second-degree murder.

At issue before Belknap County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler is whether a change to a state law is constitutional.

The new law which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2007, reads: “Any person arrested for an offense punishable by up to life in prison, where the proof is evident or the presumption great, shall not be allowed bail.”

A series of laws enacted in 2006 to address sexual offenders also amended this statute so that it now applies to any offense punishable by up to life in prison. Previously, the no-bail rule was limited to capital and first-degree murder cases.

Bifano’s lawyers have argued that the outright denial of bail based solely on the maximum possible punishment for the charged offenses is excessive.

Assistant Attorney General Lucy Carillo, who is prosecuting the case, argued that the statute was regulatory, not punitive, and was designed to provide the community safety from a dangerous individual.

While risk of flight has always been a compelling interest, Carillo claimed that since Bifano faces a potential life sentence, he could be more inclined to flee to avoid prosecution. She argued that the nature of the crime coupled with the strength of the state’s case proves bail should not be granted.

Smukler on Friday continued Bifano’s bail hearing to consider the arguments from both sides. He ordered that Bifano continue to remain held without bail until he issues his ruling.

The defense argued that Bifano did not pose a flight risk, had connections to the community and noted that his parents and two friends had attended the hearing in a show of support.

Attorney Behzad Mirhashem asked for the court to set bail at $100,000 cash or corporate surety, require bail supervision, ban Bifano from drinking alcohol and mandate that he remain gainfully employed while awaiting trial. Bifano would also be required to sign a waiver of extradition, requiring him to be returned to Belknap County if he fled.

Mirhashem said there was no motive for the crime and that his client and the victim had been friends and enjoyed playing guitar together. Bifano holds college degrees in business management and marketing, including one from Penn State, Mirhashem said. Until his arrest, he had been employed and has no prior criminal record in New Hampshire.

Because the alleged murder did not involve a firearm or a knife, he argued the alleged killing was at best manslaughter and that had Bifano been indicted on that charge instead of second-degree murder he would have been eligible for bail. He said his client had a minor misdemeanor criminal record out-of-state.

Information from: Citizen,

AP-ES-05-26-08 1037EDT

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