Dad whose kids lived in what cops called 'hellhole' gets sentence cut in half

·3 min read

Aug. 1—A Manchester father whose children lived in what police described as a "hellhole" has had his 15-year prison sentence cut nearly in half thanks to an error.

James Grenier, 32, had his minimum sentence reduced to eight years last week by Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Amy Messer. The judge's ruling ends a process that started in 2019, two years after his sentencing, when Grenier filed papers showing he was not informed that his conviction placed him on the public child-abuse registry, which is usually reserved for perpetrators of child-sex crimes.

Messer ruled that Grenier deserved a new trial, and after years of legal maneuvering, he appeared before her last week and pleaded guilty to a revised set of charges.

"James must live, everyday, with the knowledge that he will never be 'Daddy' again to the children he loved, and ultimately failed to protect and properly care for them," wrote his public defender, Julian Jefferson, in a memo in the case.

When police visited the Grenier apartment on Quirin Street in November 2016, they described it as a "hellhole."

Grenier's 4-year-old son was restrained to his bed in a makeshift harness. Human and dog feces were on the wall and floor. The boy's 2-year-old sister was shivering naked in a crib with no clothes, diaper or blanket.

It was surrounded by feces, flies were in the air and the stench was overwhelming, police said. Police halted evidence collection over fears of biohazards.

In 2017, Grenier pleaded guilty to a host of crimes, including criminal restraint. The judge at the time, now retired Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson, ignored a plea bargain that called for a 10-year sentence and added an additional five.

She later sentenced the children's mother, Samantha Grenier, to the same 15 to 30 years.

But the charge of criminal restraint against a child requires a perpetrator to register as a sex offender. Grenier was never informed about the registration requirement during sentencing, which prompted Messer to reopen the case.

Messer is considering a request by Samantha Grenier to vacate her plea and sentence for the same reasons.

"They're two separate cases," said her defense attorney, Michael Iacopino, who did not want to speculate on what effect her husband's case will have on his client's case.

The prosecutor handling both cases, Shawn Sweeney, would not comment. In filings, he encouraged Messer to maintain the sentence of 15 years. Sweeney dropped the criminal restraint charged and replaced it with reckless conduct, which meant Grenier would no longer be eligible for the child-abuse registry.

In his filing, Jefferson said Grenier embraced fatherhood, adding he attended his children's births and birthday parties, bought them the best toys and took them to fairs.

He obtained his commercial driver's license and worked long hours. But Jefferson said he was overwhelmed with fatherhood, and Samantha did not care for the children or help with household chores.

Rather, she went out drinking and having extra-marital affairs, the filing reads.

His relationship with Samantha deteriorated, and he considered suicide, the filing states. James harnessed his son for fear that he would get into danger, including playing with electrical sockets or running out of the home, unless he was restrained.

"The conduct here is inexcusable but the intent and reasoning behind the harness is important," Jefferson said. Grenier has already served about five years and four months of his sentence.

Jefferson faulted Grenier's previous attorney for not providing meaningful material that would have helped the client at the initial sentencing. And he questioned the legality of Abramson's actions, specifically requiring Grenier to forego sentence review before she issued her sentence.

A 15- to 30-year sentence is a sentence one could receive for killing another in a fit of rage, Jefferson said.

Iacopino would not address the allegation of drinking and marital infidelity.

"My client's situation has nothing to do with Mr. Grenier's situation and vice-versa," Iacopino said.