If Convicted, Millionaire Could Be First N.H. Execution Since 1939

Man once touted as a possible governor now a candidate for the death penalty.

Sept. 23, 2008 — -- John "Jay" Brooks is many things. He's a multimillionaire, for one. And he's a highly regarded entrepreneur whose success got him invited to a White House summit on small businesses. Power brokers in his home state of New Hampshire even started talking about Brooks as a potential candidate for governor.

Prosecutors, however, contend that Brooks is also a man who harbored a two-year grudge against a small-time trash hauler he suspected of stealing a van packed with his belongings that included his father's ashes.

That grudge was settled, according to court papers, when a reported Brooks accomplice lured the hauler name Jack Reid into a barn and into the lethal clutches of Brooks and another man who claimed he was supposed to be paid to kill Reid. Reid was beaten to death.

New Hampshire prosecutor Kirsten Wilson called the crime during opening arguments on Sept. 8 "a heinous and deliberate murder of an unsuspecting man, who financially had nothing, by a man that -- by outward appearances at least -- had it all."

Brooks, a multimillionaire who was named New Hampshire's "Small Business Person of the Year" in 1997, is now hoping to avoid conviction -- and the death penalty. It would be New Hampshire's first execution since 1939.

Brooks, 56, typified the all-American success story. He spent his teenage years working in a Manchester mill making cotton gauze. He enlisted in the military and spent time as a Navy medic. He later attended the University of New Hampshire where he met his wife, Lorraine.

His financial success was built while he worked at a private orthotics company during the day, and while at home at night he designed an innovative sterilization tray for surgical instruments. That invention led to the creation of his company, PolyVac.

The success of PolyVac led to a glowing 1994 profile of Brooks in the New Hampshire Business Review that pegged PolyVac's booming business at roughly $20 million a year.

The rapid growth of PolyVac caught the eye of New Hampshire business leaders. Brooks was nominated to the board of directors of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire. And in 1995, Brooks was named as a delegate to a White House small business summit. He later sold his company for millions and moved to Las Vegas.

Brooks was "intense" and had an "aggressive type of personality," former business associate Fred Bramante told the Union Leader newspaper last year.

That is the closest anyone has come to explain why Brooks would have allegedly jeopardized his fortune and his freedom and persuaded four men -- including his son Jesse -- to help him kill Reid.

"He was obsessed with Reid and was determined to kill him. It all begins and ends with him," Wilson said in her opening arguments.

Prosecutors believe Brooks became obsessed with Reid after he became convinced in 2003 that Reid had stolen a van full of Brooks' belongings valued at about $200,000. Brooks had hired Reid to help him move to Las Vegas.

Court papers suggest that the van contained, among other things, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the ashes of Brooks' father.

According to court documents, two years after the alleged theft, on June 27, 2005, alleged co-conspirator Robin Knight met with Reid and lured him into a barn on a horse farm in Deerfield, N.H.

In court this week, Michael Benton gave a gripping eye-witness account of what happened the night Reid was killed. Benton has pled guilty to 2nd degree murder and is the prosecutions star witness.

In open court, Benton testified that Joseph Vrooman and Robin knight lured Reid to a barn in Deerfield, NH. Once inside the barn, according to Benton, the men pushed Reid into a closet. Benton went on to testify that he then hit Reid in the head with a sledgehammer two or three times.

According to Benton, he walked away from the scene "to smoke a cigarette"

Prosecutors have alleged that while Benton walked away, Brooks stepped in to deliver more blows to the body. Reid's body was found a few days later in Saugus, Mass., wrapped in plastic and lying in the bed of his own dump truck.

Brooks' attorneys argue that he only intended to scare Reid and that the situation "got out of control." They blame Benton for killing Reid in a drug-fueled "act of rage," and they argue that Benton's memory isn't reliable because of years of drug use.

Jesse Brooks and the fourth defendant in the alleged conspiracy, Joseph Vrooman of Las Vegas, have pleaded not guilty.

The trial is expected to last an additional four weeks.