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Fourth suspect pleads in N.H. murder plot

A New Hampshire man charged in the murder of a developmentally disabled Wal-Mart cashier who'd been flirting with his girlfriend has pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Cashier Killing Plot
Michael Robie, left, sits with his lawyer James Moir in court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Monday. Jen Hauck / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A New Hampshire man charged in the murder of a developmentally disabled Wal-Mart cashier who'd been flirting with his girlfriend pleaded guilty Monday to lesser charges, admitting he helped orchestrate the attack from his jail cell.

Michael Robie, 19, who became enraged after being told of the advances by victim Christopher Gray, was captured on recorded telephone calls plotting to avenge them. Gray, who had attention deficit disorder and a low IQ, was stabbed to death in October 2008 after being lured to the home of Robie's girlfriend, Amber Talbot.

Talbot, Timothy Smith and Anthony Howe all pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and second-degree murder, acknowledging their roles in the killing.

"I think that every single one of them stuck that knife in him," said a tearful Shirley Kingsbury, Gray's aunt, in an interview outside court Monday. "Not any one of them should have gotten any lesser than life, if not more. They don't seem to value what a human life is, or they never would have committed something so brutal and violent."

Gray worked as a cashier at the Wal-Mart in nearby Woodsville, where Talbot worked in the health and beauty aids section and Smith worked in a sub shop.

Talbot told police Gray would follow her around the store and tell her she was cute, and Smith testified that Gray told him he was romantically interested in her.

When Robie heard about it, he was furious and began to plot with the others to attack Gray, whom he didn't know and had never met.

'Do it now'
Robie, who was being held in the Grafton County jail on an unrelated reckless conduct charge, talked about the plot in dozens of recorded phone conversations, ignoring recorded warnings that inmates' calls could be monitored or recorded.

He was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

But he pleaded guilty Monday to assault, conspiracy to commit assault, hindering apprehension and conspiracy to hinder apprehension under an agreement that calls for a 20-to-40-year prison term.

In court documents filed against Talbot, Howe and Smith, prosecutor Jeffery Strelzin said Robie solicited the three to kill Gray. But his plea deal stopped short of any such admission, with Robie acknowledging only that he asked to have Gray beaten up.

On Oct. 6, 2008, Talbot, Smith and Howe — driving Robie's car — picked Gray up after work and drove him to the home Talbot shared with Robie. There, Howe held Gray while Smith pulled a knife and told him "Do it now," or "Stab him now," Strelzin said.

Gray was stabbed more than 30 times, and Howe kicked him in the face once as he fell to the ground.

The next morning, Talbot told Robie that Gray was dead and they joked about it, Strelzin said.

Victim's family disappointed
In court Monday, a somber Robie admitted what he did in a series of one-word replies to questions posed by the judge.

"There's nothing on the tape which clearly states that Michael ever knew that a killing was going to take place. However, there's a lot of vagueness there, which is subject to interpretation," said Robie's lawyer, James Moir.

To family members disappointed by the pleas, the distinction is a moot point.

"Of course I think (the punishment should be) something harsher, but you get a plea agreement and your hands are tied," said Annie Crowley, Gray's legal guardian. "We'd all like to see a lot longer, but you don't have much choice as a family, because the justice system has to work the way it works."

"I think they should be gone away for the rest of their life," said Michael Gray, the victim's father.