James Dale seeks new trial 1997 rape/murder of Hopkinton girl

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James Dale is pictured at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin with documents he has compiled in his appeal.
James Dale is pictured at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin with documents he has compiled in his appeal.


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James Dale has filed a petition in federal court seeking again to receive a new trial in the rape and murder of six-year-old Elizabeth Knapp almost two decades ago in Hopkinton.

Click here for the petition.

For Dale, the reason he keeps fighting is simple, although it is unlikely he will ever be released from prison even if he were to be exonerated in Knapp’s murder.

Dale would still have to serve a 21 ½ – to 43-year sentence in Pennsylvania for trying to kill another inmate while he was incarcerated there. Having recently celebrated his 59th birthday at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin, he admits there is little hope of a future for him as a free man.

Crime scene photo. Elizabeth Knapp, 6, was raped and murdered in her bed in a room she shared with her little sister in Hopkinton on July 3, 1997.

Still, he spends his days and nights on his latest appeal, a writ of habeas corpus filed in U.S. District Court in Concord in late June. Dale is waiting to hear if his case will be accepted.

“Because I didn’t do it,” Dale said.

He is adamant that he didn’t rape and smother Elizabeth Knapp on July 3, 1997, for which he was sentenced to serve 60 to 120 years in prison. The case was highly publicized at the time, and another man, Richard Buchanan, was arrested shortly after the murder then released five months later.


Nancy WestAbout InDepthNH: Nancy West founded the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism in April. West is the executive editor of the center’s investigative news website, InDepthNH.org. West has won many awards for investigative reporting during her 30 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader. She has taught investigative journalism at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting’s summer program for pre-college students at Boston University. West is passionate about government transparency. The New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, formerly called Investigative News Network, which is also InDepthNH.org’s fiscal sponsor. Click here to read about INN to learn more about the mission of nonprofit news.

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Nancy West


Nancy West is publisher of InDepthNH.org.