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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

DCF Shooter Jody Herring Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 5:56 PM

Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh - POOL PHOTO: STEFAN HARD, TIMES ARGUS
  • Pool photo: Stefan Hard, Times Argus
  • Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh
A woman who murdered three relatives and a Department for Children and Families social worker was sentenced to life without parole Wednesday during an emotional hearing in Washington Superior Court.

Judge John Pacht said Jody Herring's August 2015 killing spree, triggered by the DCF's decision to take custody of her 9-year-old daughter, was the "hardest case" he'd seen in his 35-year legal career.

"I have a great deal of compassion for Jody Herring, but I also have an obligation to assure that this community is safe, that people can start to heal, and that the enormity of the crimes are reflected in the sentence," Pacht said before siding with prosecutors and handing Herring the maximum penalty for her crimes.

In a brief statement before she was sentenced, an emotional Herring apologized. She had each of her three children taken from her in custody proceedings — including a child that was conceived during a rape — and said she could empathize with the loss that her victims' families feel.

"I know how it feels. And I'm very sorry. I can't take back that day. I wish I could," said Herring, her voice severely shaking. "But I can't. I handle my stress so differently than anyone else does. I wish I could help myself. I asked for help several times, and I didn’t get it."

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

State's Attorney Scott Williams Avoids Testifying at DCF Shooter Sentencing

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 8:07 PM

Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh - POOL PHOTO: STEFAN HARD, TIMES ARGUS
  • Pool photo: Stefan Hard, Times Argus
  • Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh
Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams made a last-minute legal maneuver to avoid having to testify at a sentencing hearing Tuesday about the murder of a state social worker. That comes a week after a Seven Days story questioned a key detail in published accounts about Williams' heroic response to the shooting.

Williams was slated to take the witness stand on the second day of Jody Herring's sentencing hearing in Washington Superior Court. Herring's defense attorneys had subpoenaed him to testify.

But at the last minute, Williams filed a motion to quash the subpoena and avoid testifying.

Lawyers and Judge John Pacht retreated behind closed doors to discuss the motion. When they came back into the courtroom, Pacht, citing "reasons that implicate privacy and confidentiality concerns," temporarily granted Williams' request. The judge made additional reference to "Mr. Williams' circumstances at this point" and agreed to seal related documents.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Family Describes Troubled Life of DCF Shooter Herring

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Jody Herring, 40, during an arraignment in Washington Superior Court - FILE: TOBY TALBOT, ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • File: Toby Talbot, Associated Press
  • Jody Herring, 40, during an arraignment in Washington Superior Court
The woman who murdered a Department for Children and Families worker and three others led a life full of tragedies that included the mysterious death of her father and the loss of custody of her daughter, witnesses said Monday.

On the opening day of Jody Herring's sentencing hearing in Washington Superior Court, several of her family members took the stand and described a family riven by physical, mental and sexual abuse for generations.

As a young girl, Herring was generally happy and especially close with her father, David Herring, witnesses said. He died in 1979 after he was shot in his backyard, and his death was ruled a suicide. But Jody Herring, who was 5 years old and home at the time, and other family members have long believed that he was murdered, witnesses said.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Lawyer: DCF Shooter 'Erroneously' Released From Psychiatric Care Before Killing Four

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Jody Herring, 40, during an arraignment in Washington Superior Court - FILE: TOBY TALBOT, ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • File: Toby Talbot, Associated Press
  • Jody Herring, 40, during an arraignment in Washington Superior Court
A woman who murdered a Department for Children and Families caseworker and three others in 2015 was "erroneously" released from inpatient psychiatric care at Rutland Regional Medical Center weeks before the killings, her attorney alleges in a document filed in Washington Superior Court.

Two months before the murders, Jody Herring was deemed a "threat to herself and others," and a psychiatrist recommended that she spend 90 days undergoing involuntary psychiatric treatment. But she was released from the hospital after less than a week in what her attorney calls a "failure" of the mental health system.

On what would have been day 68 of a 90-day hospital stay, Herring gunned down DCF worker Lara Sobel in downtown Barre. Three of her own relatives — her aunt, Julie Falzarano, and cousins Regina Herring and Rhonda Herring — were later found shot to death in Berlin.

"If Rutland Regional Medical Center and the Vermont Attorney General's Office had done the right thing, Jody Herring would have been locked up involuntarily in a psychiatric facility, in Rutland, Vermont, on [the day of the killings]," her attorney, David Sleigh, wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in Washington Superior Court. "These four tragic and unnecessary deaths are the result of one the biggest failures of the mental health system in the state of Vermont's history."

In July, Herring pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder. Facing life in prison, she is scheduled to be sentenced next week in Washington Superior Court. The hearing is set to commence Monday, and could last several days.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vermont Prisons to Expand Opiate Treatment for Inmates

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 3:21 PM

MATT MORRIS
  • Matt Morris
The Vermont Department of Corrections is expanding treatment for inmates battling opiate addiction following a November 1 Seven Days article that examined the department’s practice of limiting such treatment.

Inmates at all state prisons who have prescriptions for methadone or buprenorphine (aka Suboxone) will be able to receive those medications, which diminish cravings and temper the side effects of heroin withdrawal, for up to 120 days, Commissioner Lisa Menard confirmed in an email Tuesday. Previously, inmates at two facilities received a 90-day maximum of medication-assisted treatment, while MAT was only available for 30 days at the other state jails.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Judge Delays Decision in UVM Disorderly Conduct Case

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 8:15 PM

Wesley Richter, center, listens as his attorney Ben Luna, standing, addresses the court. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wesley Richter, center, listens as his attorney Ben Luna, standing, addresses the court.
Vermont Superior Court Judge David Fenster made no decision Friday in a high-profile case that touches on campus safety and free speech rights.

Fenster said he needed time to further study the legal arguments made by the prosecution and defense to decide if there is probable cause to bring a disorderly conduct charge against Wesley Richter. The part-time University of Vermont student was overheard October 1 in a campus library talking on his cellphone, allegedly making threatening and disparaging remarks about African Americans.

Richter was cited to appear in court on the charges October 5, at which time his lawyer Ben Luna argued that there is no probable cause and that the charge should be dismissed.

Friday's hearing was to determine whether the case should go forward.

Richter sat impassively and did not speak during the 40-minute hearing in a Burlington courtroom as Luna argued that there was no threat. Furthermore, anything Richter said was protected speech under the First Amendment and the misdemeanor charge should be dropped, Luna said.

"Your honor, this case not only criminalizes speech, it criminalizes a telephone conversation between my client ... and his mother. My client was having a telephone conversation with his mother," Luna emphasized to the judge.

Richter's conversation in a library computer lab presented no imminent threat to anyone, Luna continued. The state's case is "predicated on hearsay. The hearsay in this case is unreliable," Luna said.

Assistant state's attorney Ryan Richards disagreed, and argued that Richter was making "extremely inflammatory statements" in a public place, which rose to the threshold of a threat under the state's disorderly conduct statute.

Richter's remarks were "so likely to cause panic" that they were akin to shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater, which case law has held is not protected speech, Richards said.

Luna insisted, meanwhile, that the person who overheard the conversation, UVM student Colby Thompson, did not call 911 or immediately react — proof that it didn't seem like a grave threat. Thompson sent an email to a UVM staffer hours later, a delay that suggests it wasn't an urgent concern, Luna said.

"Colby Thompson basically yawned when he overheard what my client said," Luna said in characterizing the response.

Although Luna quoted from a police affidavit when it supported his argument, he asked the judge at the outset to prohibit the prosecution from doing the same because the document has not been publicly released. But both sides referred to it often. What Richter is alleged to have said was not divulged Friday.

Under Vermont law, a judge must find probable cause before an affidavit is made public, according to Fenster and the attorneys.
UVM students Rachel Goldstein (foreground) and Cat Lawrence outside Vermont Superior Court in Burlington after Friday's hearing. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • UVM students Rachel Goldstein (foreground) and Cat Lawrence outside Vermont Superior Court in Burlington after Friday's hearing.
About six UVM students attended the hearing and said they supported the charge against Richter.

"I would at least like to see other people be less willing to make statements like this around campus. That's something at the bare minimum that I'd want,'' said Cat Lawrence, an 18-year-old first-year student from New York City.

UVM initially told the campus community that an unidentified person had made a threat against African Americans. For Lawrence, as a person of color, the warning was "terrifying," she said.

"Imagine walking around campus knowing someone said this," Lawrence said.

Rachel Goldstein, 22, a senior from New Jersey, also attended the hearing and said she wants charges filed against Richter.

"We want the law to come down on him," she said. "We want to send a strong message that this won't fly on our campus."

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Friday, October 20, 2017

South Burlington Student Pleads Guilty in Death Threat Case

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 11:55 AM

Josiah Leach, center, leaves court with attorney Elizabeth Quinn, left, and his mother, Joy McKenzie after a hearing in April. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Josiah Leach, center, leaves court with attorney Elizabeth Quinn, left, and his mother, Joy McKenzie after a hearing in April.
A South Burlington High School student will likely avoid prison time and spend five years on probation after pleading guilty Friday to threatening to kill students and staff in April.

Josiah Leach, 19, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Burlington and agreed to the plea deal.

Federal prosecutors and Leach's defense attorney recommended that Leach be sentenced to time served and five years probation. Judge Geoffrey Crawford accepted the agreement, and Leach will be formally sentenced in February.

Leach faced a five-year maximum sentence on a charge of threatening by means of interstate commerce. He spent 10 days in prison — after his arrest, and when he was found to have violated his conditions of pre-trial release.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Burlington Cops: Man Armed With Meat Cleaver Kills Wife

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 5:38 PM

A police car in front of 72 Hyde Street - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • A police car in front of 72 Hyde Street
This story was updated at 9 p.m.

A man released from a hospital where he'd sought mental health treatment returned to his Old North End home on Thursday, killed his wife with a meat cleaver and attacked his mother-in-law, Burlington police said.

Aita Gurung, 34, on Saturday sought “police attention for mental health issues and concerns about his deteriorating relationship with his wife,” Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said in a press release. Police called for emergency medical services, and he was taken to University of Vermont Medical Center.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Border Patrol Breaks Up 15-Person Smuggling Attempt in Derby

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 1:02 PM

A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
Authorities arrested three people after U.S. Border Patrol agents disrupted an attempt to smuggle 15 undocumented immigrants from Canada into Vermont, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.

Agents took into custody 11 Guatemalan citizens, four Mexicans and their driver, Hector Ramon Perez-Alvarado, who is also undocumented and from Honduras, federal authorities said.

Perez-Alvarado was arrested, as were two Mexican men: Noe Perez-Ramirez and Alberto Alvarado-Castro, both of whom were charged with attempting to reenter the country after having been previously deported. Authorities said Alvarado-Castro had several prior felony burglary convictions in the U.S.

All three appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Tuesday and did not oppose prosecutors' requests to hold them in prison pending trial.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

UVM Student Cited in 'Racist and Threatening Language' Case

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:28 PM

The University of Vermont - SALLY MCCAY
  • Sally McCay
  • The University of Vermont
University of Vermont police cited student Wesley Richter on Thursday for disorderly conduct after he was allegedly overheard on campus using "explicitly racist and threatening language directed toward African Americans," the university said in a statement.

News of the citation came three days after a university administrator emailed the UVM community about the incident. Someone reportedly overheard Richter, 20, making the comments on a phone call. He also allegedly made disparaging remarks about UVM's diversity initiatives.

"Such detestable remarks and threats directed to any group or individual are antithetical to our values and commitment to work toward racial equality and greater inclusion," wrote Annie Stevens, a vice provost for student affairs.

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