Man Who Started Fatal Claremont Fire in 2004 Moved to Less Restrictive Hospital

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Nancy West photo

Police officers led Matthew Carignan into Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord on Thursday. Also pictured at left is his lawyer, Caroline Smith.

A 33-year old man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for setting the fire that killed a Claremont couple 12 years ago will be moved from the state prison Secure Psychiatric Unit to the less restrictive New Hampshire Hospital in Concord.

Matthew Carignan attended the hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court on Thursday wearing khaki pants and a gray shirt. He was handcuffed, wore a sports helmet and didn’t speak during the brief hearing.

Judge Richard B. McNamara approved the stipulation of transfer saying the state and Carignan’s attorney agreed on the move after a recent evaluation that determined Carignan had shown improvement.

McNamara said: “Dr. (Dennis) Becotte has concluded that Mr. Carignan has improved and he’s not demonstrating violent or dangerous behavior…”

Carignan pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lynn and Laurie Estep, and to seven counts of attempted murder related to the tenants who escaped the October 2004 fire, according to the Valley News.

Two weeks ago, the Valley News reported that Emily Estep, the daughter of Lynn and Laurie Estep, who was 13 when her parents were killed, opposed the move saying she feared for the public’s safety.

Carignan reportedly lit a canvas chair on fire on the porch of a five-unit apartment building.

“He needs to stay where he is for everyone’s safety,” Emily Estep told the Valley News. “I am fearing it will happen again; it might not be us this time, but it might be another family.”

Emily Estep could not be reached after Thursday’s hearing.

State law requires patients found not guilty by reason of insanity be re-evaluated every five years and housed in the least restrictive setting.

“The stipulation has some rather strict guidelines,” McNamara said.

Carignan will be restricted to his unit at the state-run psychiatric hospital and any privilege plan would have to be “approved by the commissioner and the court,” McNamara said.

His attorney Caroline Smith said there will be medical and mental health issues involved in Carignan’s treatment.

“Before any privileges are considered outside the unit, a plan would be established and provided to the court,” Smith said.

Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward added that the stipulation also provides for Carignan to be returned to the Secure Psychiatric Unit if he doesn’t comply with the plan.

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