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Acquired Fine Taste, Or Stolen? Promising Lawyer Charged With Theft Of Art, Books, Letters

Polished by private schooling and the Ivy League, William McCallum was a dependable lawyer who once worked for a future Supreme Court justice and had an eye for art and historical artifacts.

But on Monday, McCallum goes on trial on charges that his collection of law books, art, historical letters, as well as furniture and computer equipment, was stolen.

McCallum, 34, is charged with 71 felony and misdemeanor counts of possession of property reported stolen from libraries, colleges and museums around New England.

The young attorney plans an insanity defense, and could be sentenced to life in prison or years in a state mental hospital.

Those who knew him and his background are shocked at the allegations.

McCallum grew up in Newton, Mass., where he attended private school before he went on to major in biology at Yale University.

After graduating from Boston College Law School, where he met his wife, Valerie Nevel, McCallum was hired as a law clerk at the New Hampshire Supreme Court by David Souter in 1990.

When Souter moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court, McCallum worked for his replacement, state Supreme Court Justice Sherman Horton.

“He was a bright young man. He paid attention to business. There was absolutely no indication of what is alleged to have developed later on,” Horton said.

A year later, McCallum moved on to the state attorney general’s office, where he defended state agencies.

“He was intelligent and hard-working and he did his job while he was here,” said Daniel Mullen, his former boss.

But in 1996, McCallum’s life began to crumble. He and his wife were divorcing and fighting over custody of their two daughters, now 3 and 4.

Nevel accused him of sexually assaulting the children and threatening to kill her. She was committed briefly to the state mental hospital.

Then came his arrest in July 1996.

Police said they found more than 150 stolen items in his Londonderry home and his office in Concord.

The items included a $40,000 George Inness landscape, a bronze statue of George Washington, letters signed by Franklin Pierce, the only U.S. president to hail from New Hampshire, and sets of law books from the attorney general’s office, the state Supreme Court and the state library.

Authorities said the art and books came from Dartmouth College, St. Paul’s School in Concord, Colby-Sawyer College, Yale, Boston College, Boston University and the Ropes & Gray law firm in Boston.

McCallum’s lawyers hope to show he is innocent by reason of insanity. They have not specified what mental illness he suffers from.

If found innocent by reason of insanity, the judge must decide if McCallum should be set free or sent to the state’s secure psychiatric unit. If sent there, his case would come up for review every five years and, if a court determines he is no longer mentally ill, he could be released.

Horton and Mullen said they did not see any signs of mental illness when McCallum worked for them.

“The guy was rational,” Horton said. “I’ve had a couple of clerks who were truly rising stars. … He wasn’t in that category, but he was certainly capable. I think he would have done well except for this.”

Tags: biography

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