Dover, N.H. Gary Dodds soaked his feet in cold water as part of a ploy to drum up attention for his congressional campaign by faking a story about getting lost after a car crash, a prosecutor charged Tuesday.
Dodds claimed he waded across an icy river and spent a night in the woods in April 2006 after crashing his car in a snowstorm, but physical and medical evidence show otherwise, acting County Attorney Thomas Velardi said in his opening statement at Dodds' trial.
Defense lawyer J.P. Nadeau said the claim "defies all common sense."
"This is a case about a man wrongfully accused of something so absurd a genius couldn't plan it," Nadeau said.
Prosecutors say Dodds' daylong disappearance was faked. He is charged with falsifying evidence, a felony, and misdemeanor charges of leaving the scene of an accident and causing false public alarm. He could be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Prosecutors say Dodds had worrisome campaign debts and was facing a possible investigation by the Federal Election Commission at the time of the crash. They say that he had taken out two mortgages on the family house to finance his campaign and that the FEC was considering auditing the campaign's finances.
Nadeau has accused prosecutors of watching too many television crime shows. He told the jury that authorities bungled the search and brought charges to cover themselves.
"The state's going to parade before you every bit of circumstantial evidence they can to try to get you off the facts of the case because they can't justify their conduct," he said.
Dodds, 43, a businessman, struck a highway guardrail in Dover and went over the evening of April 5, 2006, saying later that he swerved to avoid hitting a deer. He said he crossed the river and wandered in a forest during a chilly night.
Dodds was found the next night, a mile from the crash scene under a pile of leaves, fading in and out of consciousness and missing a shoe. He led the jury to the scene Monday afternoon in preparation for the trial.
Dodds was treated at Portsmouth Regional Hospital for what was described then as hypothermia, a concussion and frostbite. A hospital official said Dodds had "situational amnesia" and significant nerve damage to his feet.
Velardi told jurors that Dodds had "severe cold-related injury to his feet," but neither frostbite nor hypothermia. Paramedics and doctors who treated Dodds noticed a clear line across his ankles with wet, purple, shriveled skin below, and warm, pink, dry skin above, Velardi said.
He also said Dodds' temperature was 96.8 when he was rescued and rose to a normal 98.6 within 25 minutes. "That temperature is nowhere near low enough to match what Mr. Dodds said happened," he said.
But Nadeau argued that Dodds' rescuers waited an hour to take his temperature, after he had been wrapped in blankets.
Authorities estimate they spent $18,000 searching for Dodds with teams assisted by dogs and a helicopter.
After a brief hospitalization and time off to recuperate, Dodds resumed campaigning, limping and walking with a cane. Never considered a contender, Dodds placed third in the four-way Democratic primary, losing to Carol Shea-Porter, who defeated Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley in the general election.
Judge Peter Fauver said Tuesday he may reconsider letting prosecutors introduce allegations he was having an affair at the time. Defense attorneys entered a motion Monday seeking to have the allegations barred from the court. Prosecutors say he may have spent part of the day he was missing with the woman.