NEWPORT, N.H. (AP) — A Vermont man was convicted Wednesday of beating his wife to death hours after she filed divorce papers and dumping her body off a remote logging road in the woods.
James Robarge, 45, had testified during his murder trial he didn't kill her, but a New Hampshire jury convicted him after deliberating for more than 12 hours over three days.
Robarge's two daughters left the courtroom sobbing and clutching one another. Family members didn't comment.
Kelly Robarge, 42, filed for divorce after more than 20 years of marriage on June 27, 2013 — the day she disappeared from her Charlestown, New Hampshire, home. Her badly decomposed body was found 10 days later in Unity, her head and hands detached from the corpse.
Robarge, of Saxtons River, Vermont, faces up to life in prison with the chance of parole. The jury rejected a first-degree murder charge but found him guilty of second-degree murder for reckless conduct that showed "extreme indifference to the value of human life." The judge said sentencing will likely be in April.
"We are pleased that the jury who met him as well could not believe he would ever plan to kill his wife," defense attorney Caroline Smith said. "We're certainly saddened that they thought he killed her at all."
"He dumped her out in the woods like a piece of trash and left her out there in the woods to rot," prosecutor Diana Fenton told jurors last month.
Prosecutors said the entryway to Kelly Robarge's home contained "countless" spatters of blood and that James Robarge's disabled car was found several miles from where her body was discovered with a bloodstained trunk and numerous bloody items outside it.
Still, it was a case built largely on circumstantial evidence.
The closest thing to an eyewitness was a Unity man who said he saw Robarge, wearing latex gloves, crouched beside his disabled car on a turnaround in Unity the night Kelly Robarge disappeared. Her body was found off a logging road not far from there, and forensics experts say metal fragments found near an oil-smeared rock on the road matched Robarge's shattered oil pan.
Because of the condition of her body, a medical examiner could not pinpoint the cause of death or determine how her head and hands became detached but concluded she died as the result of "homicidal violence."
One of the last people to see Kelly Robarge the day she disappeared was Frances Uptegrove, a physician assistant who had treated her for anxiety and depression for several years. Uptegrove testified that Kelly Robarge told her she was heading to court to file for divorce.
"She seemed clear-headed, determined," Uptegrove said. "She'd made up her mind."
Public defender Alex Parsons told jurors during his opening statement Jan. 15 that James Robarge was "the critical witness."
In testimony spanning two days, James Robarge showed no emotion as he repeatedly denied threatening or harming his wife. He stared straight ahead when the verdict was announced.
Robarge claimed he didn't know his wife had filed for divorce, but he acknowledged that just days before, he found a letter from her on their kitchen counter saying she wanted one.