Murderer's early release plea splits NH family

By James A. Kimble
The Union Leader

NASHUA — A tearful Steven Volkmann professed having years of sorrow and regret yesterday for brutally stabbing to death his young wife, Teri, in 1985 and throwing her down a flight of stairs inside her Manchester apartment.

"I am so, so sorry for what I have done," Volkmann told a courtroom full of people yesterday. "The memory of my wife's murder haunts me each and every day."

But all his regrets fell short to the ears of Teri Volkmann's family members, who came to Hillsborough County Superior Court to oppose Volkmann's bid to have 33 months shaved off his 27-year minimum sentence.

"When he says he knows how much it hurts -- no you don't know what Thanksgiving and Christmas is like every year," Teri Volkmann's brother, Bruce Normand, said.

Normand's admonishment came with a surprise offer to Volkmann: If he served the 27-year minimum prison sentence as first promised more than two decades ago, then Normand said he would be willing to meet with him.

"Steve, what I'm asking you (is) do the 27 years," Normand, of Goffstown, said. "Right after the 27 years, give me a call and I will come up and see you and we'll sit down and talk. Please withdraw this whole thing."

Normand recalled yesterday knowing Volkmann since high school, and said his latest bid for early release -- the fourth such request since 1993 -- has only added more hurt to his family's decades of grief.

Divide within family
The 1985 killing created a divide within Teri Volkmann's family, both sides of which filled the courtroom yesterday to have their opinions heard.

Volkmann's lawyer, Cathy Green, called upon current and former prison employees to speak about how her client had earned advanced college degrees and became a model prisoner, encouraging other inmates to pursue an education while incarcerated.

Yesterday's hearing was the last of its kind for murderers in New Hampshire.

Volkmann made his request for early release last September before a sudden policy change by the state Department of Corrections.

Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn revamped a policy governing the state's clemency board to restrict violent offenders from using it. That happened after a contentious hearing in Strafford County last month, when Eric Grant made a bid to be released for murdering his wife, Brenda, after serving 19 years in prison. He was sentenced to 27 years to life, and denied an early release by a judge.

Volkmann, who turns 53 on Saturday, struck a deal with prosecutors in 1986 which allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 27 years to life in state prison. He was initially charged with first-degree murder, punishable by a lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole.

Son is staunchest ally
One of Volkmann's staunchest advocates for release is his 25-year-old son, Adam, who told Judge James O'Neill that no one was more of a victim of his mother's murder than he was.

Adam Volkmann, who was raised by his father's parents, insisted no one was making him petition for his father's release.

It would have been much easier to not get involved with his father's bid for freedom, he said.

"I wholeheartedly believe my mother would support my decision," Volkmann said. "Reducing the sentence is not rewarding him. Reducing the sentence is sending a message that the healing process will begin."

Steven Volkmann maintained yesterday he could not recall the entirety of stabbing his wife about 23 times before casting her down the basement stairs in her apartment -- still suggesting it happened during an alcohol- and drug-fueled haze.

"How I found out a lot about this was through my attorney and also a counselor at the prison," Volkmann said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell quizzed Volkmann about how he had beaten his 24-year-old wife on multiple occasions, one time breaking her jaw and creating a laceration to her scalp, before finally killing her.

The abuse eventually prompted Teri Volkmann to obtain a restraining order from a district court judge.

A week later, she was murdered at her Manchester apartment on Nov. 30, 1985.

'I'm sorry I loved her'
The murder weapon, a survival knife with a serrated edge, was later found in a green plastic trash bag filled with bloody clothing and towels at Volkmann's apartment in Goffstown, according to yesterday's testimony.

John Jaskolka, Manchester's former police chief who was a detective on the case, testified about finding Volkmann unconscious and naked in his bed after a failed suicide attempt.

Police found a copy of the restraining order against Volkmann pinned to a bulletin board in his kitchen.

A suicide note later recovered written by Volkmann read: "Keep good care of Adam; I'm sorry I loved her; I loved everybody but me," Jaskolka testified.

O'Neill, the judge, said he is considering the request. He is expected to write an order on his decision.

Normand told O'Neill that his former brother-in-law should be required to stay put, a request he repeated from the court gallery.

"When I look in Steve's eyes, I know what he's saying to me," Normand said. "It's been a long time. None of us like this. Please do the time and give me call. Please? Would you?"

Copyright 2010 Union Leader Corp.

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