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Meaning of Girls' 'Privates' Disputed

By ANDREW WOLFE, Telegraph Staff
wolfea@telegraph-nh.com

NASHUA – A Hollis man asked a judge Thursday to throw out his conviction for molesting twin sisters, arguing the 10-year-old girls weren't specific enough when they testified that he touched their "privates."

Gregory Blackstock, 45, formerly of 68 Flint Pond Drive, also argued that prosecutors failed to prove he acted with the purpose of sexual gratification.

Blackstock was found guilty of three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault July 26 after a trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

If Judge William Groff upholds his conviction, Blackstock is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25. Groff did not immediately rule on the issue after hearing arguments Thursday.

If Groff overturns Blackstock's convictions, prosecutors could seek to appeal his ruling, or request a new trial. On the other hand, Blackstock could argue that the case should be dismissed, and that double jeopardy bars the state from trying him again.

Blackstock is currently serving a five- to 10-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old East Kingston girl in that town. He also faces trial next month on charges that he sexually assaulted a Hollis girl, now 17, between 1989 and 1996.

Blackstock was convicted of molesting the twin girls between October 1998 and June 1999 at his mother's home in Hollis.

Blackstock met the girls and their family while living in East Kingston and attending the same Jehovah's Witness congregation as they. He became close with the family and lived with them for a time. The alleged assaults took place while the girls visited him in Hollis.

The girls, who are now 10, both testified during the trial that Blackstock had touched their "privates." The girls drew circles on an anatomically correct drawing to indicate the area to which they were referring.

Blackstock's lawyer, Paul Garrity, argued that evidence wasn't enough to prove sexual contact with their genitalia.

"They circled an area on the body that encompassed stomach, groin, legs and genitalia," Garrity said.

Assistant County Attorney Roger Chadwick disagreed, saying the drawings were somewhat more specific. In any case, he argued, the term "privates" is unambiguous.

"We're dealing with a very specific term, commonly used to refer to the genitalia," Chadwick said.

"Common sense seems to rule out any question as to where a 10-year-old girl . . . means when she says ‘privates,' " Chadwick wrote in his response to Blackstock's motion. "If you were to look up from this paper and see someone stumble into your room, bent at the waist and complaining of having been kicked in the ‘privates,' would you, could you, have any doubt as to where they had been harmed?"

In making their arguments, Chadwick and Garrity cited two previous state Supreme Court rulings. In a 1997 case, the court upheld a conviction based in part on testimony by the victim, who said she was touched in her "privates," and used a stuffed bunny to point out what she meant.

In a 1989 case, the Supreme Court upheld Groff's decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a Lowell, Mass., man, because the victim testified that the man "stuck his fingers in my bum." The court found the word "bum" was too ambiguous to prove sexual penetration.

Garrity argued the situation in Blackstock's case was akin to the 1989 case, while Chadwick likened it to the more recent case.

Garrity also charged that prosecutors failed to prove that Blackstock acted for sexual gratification, as state law requires in such cases.

Prosecutors offered no evidence of the circumstances surrounding the alleged assaults – not even whether they happened at the same or different times, Garrity said. For all the jury knew, Blackstock could have stumbled into the girls by accident, or touched them while he was sleeping, Garrity said.

"You can't infer criminal intent from no evidence," Garrity said. "They presented no evidence of the circumstances surrounding this touching.

"It's like this hand in the Addams Family, floating in the ozone," he said.

Chadwick countered that the simple fact both girls were assaulted rules out an accident, and shows that the touching was purposeful.

Blackstock's case already has produced other noteworthy legal rulings.

Before the trial, Groff ruled that Blackstock couldn't be sentenced under the state's "three strikes" rape law, because he committed all of the alleged offenses before he was charged with any of them. Some judges have interpreted the law differently, and the state Supreme Court has yet to decide the issue.

In another pretrial ruling, Groff found that elders in Blackstock's Jehovah's Witness congregation couldn't be made to testify about his statements to them because of the "religious privilege" rule, which holds that religious leaders can't be required to disclose a confession or other statements made in confidence in their capacity as spiritual advisers.

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410.

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