Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo Jennifer Berube was acquitted Friday in Rutland of trying to kill Rutland City Police Officer Damon Nguyen.
RUTLAND — A jury Friday acquitted a woman charged with attempting to murder a Rutland City Police officer with a knife by approaching him from behind and using a knife to cut his throat.
Less than two hours after jurors began deliberations in the case against Jennifer Berube, the 12-member panel of men and women returned to the Rutland criminal courtroom. They delivered “not guilty” verdicts on the attempted second-degree murder charge and a lesser offense of attempted aggravated assault with serious bodily injury, which they were allowed to consider.
The decisions drew cheers from Berube’s family members who crowded a bench behind the defense table where Berube dropped into her seat and wept after the verdict was read.
The verdict was delivered three days after the start of the trial and 18 months after Berube was arrested and jailed. Her family members said outside the courthouse Friday afternoon that she was retrieving her belongings from the Chittenden County jail before returning home to Bangor, Maine, with her family.
“The verdict was correct in light of the evidence provided at trial,” said Berube’s defense attorney, Daniel Sedon. “Jen is completely vindicated.”
But that belief wasn’t shared by city officials, including Mayor Christopher Louras and Police Chief James Baker, who said proof of Berube’s inten to kill were evident in surveillance camera footage which showed almost all of the incident.
“I’m shocked and dismayed, quite frankly, not just by the verdict but by the disappointment I feel on behalf of members of the police department,” Louras said. “I’m not convinced justice was served in this case.”
Berube, 40, and her former husband, John MacLean III, were arrested Dec. 27, 2012 on misdemeanor charges connected to possessing a stolen credit card.
But Berube was soon facing life imprisonment after she crept up behind Officer Damon Nguyen with a knife with a 2-inch-long blade in her hand.
Video images shot inside the police station’s booking area show Berube flinging her hands around the officer’s neck followed by a violent melee that ended with the woman being overpowered by several officers.
Nguyen suffered a cut near his jugular vein in the incident. Friday, Baker said the officer was holding up after a disappointing verdict.
“He’s doing fine and we’re all here for him,” the chief said. “This incident demonstrates how professional he is.”
While he said he and his officers respect the legal decision, the chief said the verdict seemed to fly in the face of the evidence.
“The video was pretty clear. The evidence was pretty clear. But depending on where you sit it’s possible to have different perspectives,” he said.
“It’s a verdict that’s disappointing to other members of the department as well, but I’m extremely proud of everyone involved in the case and in those officers who were there all week to support Officer Nguyen.”
Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre had little to say after the verdict.
“I respect the jury’s decision, but have no comment beyond that,” he said.
While Baker and his officers prepared to move on, Berube’s family members said she was preparing to start her life over again.
Once a registered nurse who worked in a hospital maternity ward and a mother of three, Berube lost everything when she developed an addiction to painkillers, divorced from her husband and lost custody of her children, according to testimony Berube provided from the witness stand Friday.
Six months before she was arrested in 2012, Berube checked into an inpatient drug treatment center in Maine where she didn’t cure her addiction but did meet MacLean.
The couple returned to Vermont, Berube testified, where her former husband introduced her to heroin. Homeless and living on the streets of Rutland, Berube said she became completely dependent on MacLean.
“He was all I had left, really, or I felt that way,” she told the jury.
Berube said MacLean had told her repeatedly before their arrest that he would kill himself before going to jail again.
In an interview room after her arrest, Berube said she believed she heard MacLean in an out-of-sight holding cell following through on those proclamations.
“I could hear my husband trying to hang himself in his cell,” she said. “I could hear his boot laces coming out and I heard him gagging.”
Police have said that MacLean did not try to hang himself.
But in that moment, Berube said, she hatched a scheme to escape using a Leatherman tool that was missed in an inside pocket of her jacket by officers who patted her down when she arrived at the station.
“I thought if I just showed him the knife and scared him he would give me the keys,” she said. “It didn’t make much sense, but I wasn’t thinking rationally at the time.”
She added, “I’ve done a lot of terrible things because of my addiction, but in my life I’ve never tried to harm anyone and that includes Officer Nguyen.”
Berube and her family did not comment after the trial.
During closing arguments, Brierre said Berube’s sneak attack on Nguyen, followed by a violent struggle in which she and the officer fought for the knife, belied Berube’s testimony.
“The only way that getting those keys makes sense is if the officer is out of the picture,” Brierre said. “The only way to do it is to kill him.”
But Sedon said during his own closing statements that his client wasn’t thinking rationally and decided on a desperate gambit.
“She’s an RN. She knows how to use a knife. If she wanted to kill she would have plunged the knife right in,” he said. “What you’re seeing is a poorly thought out, stupid, harebrained, dangerous plan to threaten a law enforcement officer and thereby obtain his keys.”
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