By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — One by one, they took the stand; some sobbed while others fought back tears.
The eight relatives of Richard Mannion Jr. of Sandown pleaded with Rockingham Superior Court Judge Marguerite Wageling Dec. 28 to give Nicole LeBlanc of Londonderry a life prison sentence for shooting and killing the father of four they so dearly loved.
But LeBlanc, 39, of 37 Olde Country Village was sentenced to 35 years to life, with a chance for parole, for murdering her 43-year-old former boyfriend in his home Jan. 14. Mannion was found in his bed with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Wageling sentenced LeBlanc on a second-degree murder charge as part of a plea bargain reached with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case.
LeBlanc, shackled and dressed in a prison jumpsuit, said little in court and did not apologize to the victim’s family. She looked down as Mannion’s family addressed the judge, her long black hair covering her face.
If convicted at trial on the original first-degree murder charge, the Londonderry mother faced life in prison without parole. Any other sentence for LeBlanc would not be enough, Mannion’s family told the judge.
“Hopefully, you will get life — you don’t deserve anything less,” read the letter from his mother, Tricia Mannion. “You are a heartless monster and don’t deserve to live.”
An emotional Tricia Mannion stood and listened as a representative from the Attorney General’s Office read what she had written.
Richard Mannion Jr.’s two daughters and one of his two sons told the judge how much they missed their father. They were joined by his father, uncle, sister and former wife — among the approximately 20 friends and family members in the courtroom.
“Nicole, you didn’t just take away one life, you took pieces away from everyone,” said his teenage daughter Nicolette, who called him “Papa Bear.” “I didn’t know anything could hurt this much. Nothing will ever be the same.”
Family members told of how Mannion loved life, especially the outdoors.
His father, Richard Mannion Sr., also criticized the proposed sentence.
“I can’t accept it all,” he said. “I can’t accept a second-degree murder plea at all.”
The victim’s ex-wife, Shannon Emerson, told of how LeBlanc tried to console her and family members after Mannion’s death. LeBlanc even posted online messages on Mannion’s online obituary, relatives said.
Wageling said she sympathized with the family and what they had been through.
“The details of the homicide are gruesome,” the judge said. “Ms. LeBlanc you deserve every single day of this sentence.”
Wageling accepted the sentence recommended by Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley. He said LeBlanc suffered from mental illness and had attempted suicide at least twice.
Hinckley described how the discovery of Mannion’s body by a girlfriend in his Hollow Oak Road home led them to LeBlanc, who had known him for about a year before he broke off the relationship between the two several months before his death.
But LeBlanc refused to stay away from him despite a court order. Two months before the shooting, LeBlanc pleaded guilty to assaulting Mannion on Aug, 18, 2011.
No details of the assault were released, but the case was placed on file without a finding for six months. LeBlanc, freed on $5,000 personal recognizance bail, was ordered to stay away from Mannion for at least 90 days.
Hinckley told of how LeBlanc stole a pistol from a friend, Dennis Johnson of Hollis, and used it to shoot the Gulf War veteran as he slept after breaking into his home.
Johnson agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, wearing a body wire that tape-recorded a conversation with LeBlanc that revealed she killed Mannion.
LeBlanc’s sentence allows her to petition the court to have five years suspended from her sentence if she earns a bachelor’s degree and stays out of trouble for 10 years.