NASHUA, N.H. — A woman who was hacked to death during a home invasion used her own body to shield her 11-year-old daughter as they were being attacked and died not knowing if her only child was alive or dead, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Steven Spader, 18, sat expressionless during the second day of his trial amid testimony about the gruesome injuries inflicted upon Kimberly Cates and her daughter, Jaimie. At one point, a prosecutor stood inches from Spader’s face and pronounced him a ruthless, merciless killer.
Defense attorney Andrew Winters told jurors the state had no forensic evidence linking Spader to the crime and that the key witnesses against him — three co-defendants — cut deals to lessen their own sentences.
“Each has told multiple, contradictory stories about what happened that night,” Winter said of the three, William Marks, Quinn Glover and Autumn Savoy.
Spader faces life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted of murder.
Prosecutors say Marks and Glover witnessed the attacks but did not take part. Savoy has pleaded guilty to helping hide evidence and concocting a false alibi. A fourth co-defendant, Christopher Gribble, is scheduled to stand trial for murder in February.
Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley held up a long machete as he described the attacks he said were committed by Spader and Gribble in the master bedroom of the Cates’ Mont Vernon home.
“They hacked them, they stabbed them, they cut them apart, and this is what this defendant used to hack that mother and daughter in their bed,” Hinckley said. “He brought this weapon down on them again and again and again.”
Prosecutors say Spader wielded the machete during the pre-dawn attacks on the mother and daughter, who were nestled in bed together. Jaimie’s father, David Cates, was in Baltimore on a business trip.
Jaimie told a trooper that her mother’s screams woke her up.
A surgeon testified that a blow that lacerated the girl’s face was delivered with such force that it broke her jaw. Another blow cleaved into the back of her head hard enough to crease her skull. A machete-like object, the doctor said, cut through bone and severed two pieces off her left foot.
He held up photographs of Jaimie’s injuries as he detailed them for the jury. There were stab wounds on two sides of her heart, a long gash on her face above her throat and a deep gash above her hip that nearly penetrated her abdominal cavity.
The girl told police she survived by feigning death, even as her assailants kicked and hacked at her.
“Jaimie Cates didn’t die,” Hinckley told a rapt jury. “When her Mom’s killers left, that little girl got up. She stopped playing dead. With one arm broken, her jaw shattered and parts of her foot completely cut off, she got up.”
Jaimie made her way to the kitchen and phoned police.
Prosecutors played for jurors the 911 call that Jaimie Cates made after stumbling to the kitchen. The girl’s wimper filled the courtroom, but the words were indiscernible. The dispatcher said Jaimie reported that her house had been robbed.
Milford police Sgt. Kevin Furlong arrived at the scene first. He looked through a front window and saw Jaimie lying on the floor, covered in blood. Furlong used his shoulder to smash through the door.
“Part of her foot was missing,” Furlong testified. “Other parts were barely still attached. She was attempting to scream and yell, however nothing was coming out.”
David Cates sat in the front row of the courtroom on Tuesday, his jaw clenched and a friend’s hand gripping his shoulder, as he listened to graphic descriptions about the attacks on his wife and daughter. He occasionally gave Spader a long, hard stare.
Kimberly Cates suffered more than 30 wounds, include a slit throat.
“Kimberly Cates was alive when she suffered each one of those unimagineable wounds. She was alive when she tried to be a shield for her daughter,” Hinckley said. “She made a mother’s sacrifice for her daughter.”
Dr. Amir Taghinia of Children’s Hospital Boston testified he was able to graft skin onto Jaimie’s foot and that she can walk again, but her ability to push off on the ball of her left foot is compromised.
Prosecutors say Spader and Gribble laughed and boasted about what they had done in the days after the attacks. Winters countered that, “Anyone who knew Steven Spader said he constantly bragged and exaggerated or said things that were doubtful or not true.”
Testimony resumes Wednesday.