Eric Blaisdell / Staff Photo Police take Jonathan Henry into custody in Berlin late Tuesday.
BARRE — An East Montpelier convict who says he has 18 months to live and who was being held without bail escaped and evaded police for 2½ hours Tuesday evening before being returned to custody. He had been in prison on a probation violation that the Department of Corrections says involved blackmailing another man for $10,000 after performing a sex act on him.
Jonathan Henry, 28, left Central Vermont Medical Center where he was receiving medical treatment around 5 p.m. and ran toward Woodridge Nursing Home and down to Route 302, according to Vermont State Police Capt. Paul White. Henry followed the railroad tracks toward Barre before he was caught near the River Run Manor Mobile Home Park in Berlin, police said.
Henry’s lawyer said earlier in court that he has advanced-stage kidney failure and has to receive dialysis several times a week.
White said Henry had completed his medical treatment and was preparing to be taken back to Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. White said Henry’s shackles had been removed to receive the medical treatment and two corrections officers were about to put the restraints back on Henry when he ran away.
Several law enforcement agencies responded, including police from Montpelier, Barre and Berlin and the Washington and Orange county sheriff’s departments. Law enforcement also used a helicopter to help find Henry. State police say he was found by a police dog.
White said two corrections officers were escorting Henry at the time of the escape, which White said is standard procedure for a transport team.
After he was caught, Henry was returned to Central Vermont Medical Center for medical clearance, White said.
The day’s developments began with Henry denying the probation violation in Washington County criminal court in Barre.
According to the affidavit from Henry’s probation officer Jon Sylvia, Henry met a man on the online marketplace Craigslist.com and the two met face to face. According to Sylvia, the man performed oral sex on Henry and Henry took pictures during the act. Sylvia says Henry then struck the man in the face with a pistol and threatened to shoot him.
According to a statement by the man, he met Henry on Jan. 27 in East Montpelier. After the sex act and attack, the man said, he and Henry went to the Berlin Mall, where the man bought Henry a video game and console for $529. The man said he and Henry then went to VSECU, where Henry got his account information and gave it to the man, telling him to wire $10,000 to Henry’s account.
The man said Henry told him if he refused to give the money or went to the police, Henry would shoot the man’s wife. The man said he gave Henry the money and Henry made him sign a note saying it was for a pickup truck.
In court Monday, Washington County State’s Attorney Tom Kelly wanted Henry held without bail given his criminal past and the violent nature of the new allegations. Kelly said criminal charges in the blackmail incident would be coming in the next week.
Kelly also said an Airsoft pellet gun was retrieved from Henry’s residence when he was picked up Friday by Vermont State Police and the Department of Corrections.
Henry’s attorney for the arraignment on the probation violation, Rosie Chase, argued against putting Henry behind bars, saying he has serious medical issues. Henry pulled up the left sleeve of his shirt to show a baseball-size mass on his bicep that Chase said was the result of a clogged artery. She said Henry was to have surgery on it Thursday at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Judge Thomas Zonay agreed Henry’s medical condition was serious but questioned how bad off he was if he was healthy enough to engage in the conduct alleged by the man.
“The court understands your argument, but the court has a very difficult balance to strike,” Zonay said. “And that is, is there a significant public-safety risk from someone who is on probation after time in jail for a crime of violence, assault and robbery, and there is probable cause found for a violation of probation that they have done something very similar and put someone at risk. The court has concerns about that.”
Henry was convicted in Washington County criminal court in April 2012 of assault and robbery with a weapon, a felony; unlawful trespass; and marijuana possession of less than 2 ounces.
According to court records, Henry and two other men entered the home of a Plainfield couple in 2011 and robbed them at gunpoint. He was given a sentence of two to eight years, all suspended except one year to serve, and six months’ home confinement. After his incarceration, Henry was placed on probation.
Sylvia, Henry’s probation officer, told Zonay on Monday that the department was aware of Henry’s medical conditions and would be able to make sure he got the treatment he needs.
Henry, against the advice of Chase, spoke in court, saying what the affidavit says is “not how it went” and he “doesn’t go around with guns threatening people.” Henry said his medical condition is serious, with doctors having said he has 18 months to live, and that he wanted to spend that time with his family, not behind bars.
Zonay said that given the information before him Monday, Henry posed a public-safety risk and ordered him held without bail.
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