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Caballero Murder Trial
Witness gives conflicting reports

BARRE — An eyewitness in Jayveon Caballero’s murder trial has given conflicting reports about what he heard.

Caballero, 31, of Barre, has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Markus Austin in Montpelier in January 2017. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in August 2018, and is being held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The first day of the trial in Washington County Criminal Court in Barre was Thursday with the state and Dan Sedon, Caballero’s attorney, giving opening statements and the state presented some witnesses.

The trial continued Friday and one of the witnesses who testified saw what occurred shortly after the shooting.

According to court records, a witness told police Austin was shot around 4:30 a.m. Jan. 22, 2017, in the parking lot outside his 191 Barre St. apartment in Montpelier. Austin died from a 9mm gunshot wound to the chest, according to police and court records.

Police said the shooting followed a fight in Barre the previous evening, when witnesses said Austin hit Caballero’s girlfriend, who required medical treatment as a result. Officials said Caballero waited outside Austin’s apartment before Austin was shot.

Police said Caballero then fled to Florida, where he was arrested in May 2017 and brought back to Vermont.

The state attorney general’s office has argued Caballero shot Austin while Austin was sitting in his car. Sedon has argued Austin was out of the car when Caballero shot and the bullet ricocheted off Austin’s vehicle, hitting Austin in the chest. He said Caballero did not intend to kill Austin.

Sedon said Thursday Austin and Caballero got out of their vehicles and shouted at each other before Caballero fired.

Jeff Sarpong lived in the same building as Austin. When asked by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Anderson, he testified he heard one voice shouting outside his window, which is on the second floor. He said he heard what sounded like a gunshot and looked outside. Sarpong said he saw a man who looked like Austin on the ground and another man holding a gun; he later identified the second man as Caballero. He said he saw Caballero walk toward Austin’s car, ask Austin whether he was OK and then ran back to his car and drove away.

Sedon said Sarpong was interviewed by a detective shortly after the shooting and again by another detective 15 months later. He said a few months after that he sat down for a deposition with Sedon.

Sedon asked Sarpong, “Through all these tellings and retellings of what happened, and all these people badgering you with questions, have you gotten confused yourself about any of these facts?”

Sarpong said he had not, and he was clear on the facts. Sedon said Sarpong told the first detective he heard voices plural, not a single voice. Sarpong said he had told the detective he had heard voices.

Sedon said Sarpong again said he heard voices during the deposition. Also, Sarpong testified that Caballero’s voice was angry at first, but after he fired Caballero’s voice became more calm and concerned. He said it seemed to him as if Caballero had fired the shot, but almost as if he didn’t intend to harm Austin.

The state called five other witnesses, each of them confirming information in depositions.

Because Monday is Veterans Day, and most state offices and the state’s courts are closed, the trial will not resume until Tuesday morning.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

'Siboinebi Path' opens in Capital City

MONTPELIER — A new 1.9-mile section of the shared-use path in the Capital City was dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.

About 100 people turned out for the ceremony and ribbon-cutting.

The $6 million project will connect to a Cross Vermont Trail project — another four miles of recreation trail through East Montpelier. It is hoped to break ground in the spring.

Montpelier now has four miles of shared-use path: From the east side of the city at Dog River Road, passing through the newly opened Taylor Street Transit Center and across a new bridge over the North Branch river to Main Street. A short section of path, from Main Street and along Barre Street to the recreation center will need to be completed in the spring and will require eliminating 18 city parking spaces. From the recreation center, path users can connect with the shared-use path on Stone Cutters Way to the new section from Granite Street and along Barre Street, Old Country Road and along the Winooski River to Gallison Hill Road, where it will connect with the proposed Cross Vermont Trail.

Ceremonies to celebrate the new path were held at the new Caledonia Spirits on Barre Street – a merciful reprieve from the cold weather for the scores of guests who attended the event.

During the chance to walk, ride or ski the path before the ribbon-cutting on Friday, Erika Mitchell and Seth Frisbie, of Calais, of the self-styled Frizzle Mountain Unicycle Club, rode unicycles along the new stretch.

“We’re having a grand time,” said Mitchell. “This is a wonderful idea, and it’s going to open up so much opportunity for this end of town. With the distillery here and Hunger Mountain Coop, it’s going to be an anchor for a whole new part of town.”

Frisbie added: “It’s a wonderful resource and one of the things that makes Montpelier and central Vermont a nice place to live.”

Mayor Anne Watson helped guests to pronounce the Abenaki name of the path.

It will be called “Siboinebi Path” after a city contest to select a suitable name that was won this year by Jamie Carroll, assistant to the city manager. Siboinebi means “river water” and was chosen to reflect the original occupation of the city by the Abenaki Indians, and after consultation with the Abenaki Tribal Council by the Complete Streets Committee.

Watson noted the Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation could not be present but read a statement from him in which he noted that it was “refreshing” that Vermonters wanted to celebrate the Abenaki culture and use the tribe’s language to identify places.

Several members of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe who attended the event included Michael Descotaux, of Concord, Roland Bluto, of Milton, and brothers David Manning and Sgt. Dale Manning, who works for the Capitol Police Department.

Watson noted that the new section of path had been “many years in the making” and thanked voters who helped fund it, as well as city staff who worked on the project. She also acknowledged adjoining landowners who participated in the project.

“This path represents for us an alternative to using fossil-fuel vehicles as we get to work ... it represents better access for the business on the east side of town; it celebrates the river as it is so scenic and goes right along the river,” Watson said. “It’s an opportunity for families to recreate; and it really puts Montpelier on the map as a destination for recreation.”

Jen Roberts, of Onion River Outdoors on Langdon Street, said the path was significant because it connected the city with its Abenaki history, allowed for the use of alternative transportation, created a “safer and prettier passage” between schools, and connected other city landmarks, neighborhoods and other communities.

“Our lovely new path checks the box for so many of the reasons people value their community,” Roberts said. “This path belongs to all of us. Let’s use it to our advantage and keep growing this network of multi-use paths.”

Kim McKee, chairwoman of the Cross Vermont Trail Board, noted that the Cross Vermont Trail is a 90-mile corridor spanning the Wells and Winooski river valleys that is a patchwork of on-and-off-trail segments.

McKee said with the completion of the Montpelier shared-use path, the Winooski Bridge project would be a four-mile section that extended upstream from Gallison Hill Road, and include building a 200-foot steel bridge across the Winooski River and connect to the U-32 trail network.

She said there had been steady progress in doing so over the past five years. Rights of way had been obtained from five landowners; permits had been obtained; and a draft Act 250 application for the project had been prepared. Some costs for the project had increased because of new steel tariffs, she added.

McKee ended by singing a song she wrote to commemorate the project, titled “Winooski Bridge Song” before participants and guests went outside for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

Berlin grants tax break for housing project

BERLIN — The planned construction of a 98-unit senior housing project on property owned by the Berlin Mall cleared a key hurdle Thursday when the Select Board approved a five-year tax stabilization agreement requested by the developer of Spruce Place.

It wasn’t unanimous. The shorthanded board voted, 3-1, to approve the tax break requested by Brad Dousevicz

Selectman Jeremy Hansen cast the dissenting vote despite conceding the Spruce Place project proposed by Dousevicz was clearly eligible for a five-year stabilization agreement under an occasionally used policy approved by voters in 2011.

“The application certainly checks all the boxes,” Hansen said, noting that was also the conclusion of the town’s recently reformed economic development council.

Hansen, who served on that five-member committee, said its threshold finding didn’t preclude the board from denying the request. The policy, he said, gives the board that discretion to determine whether it is in the town’s best interest to enter into stabilization agreements with developers such as Dousevicz.

“I just don’t agree that we ought to say ‘yes’ to everything that comes across our desk,” he said.

Hansen said he was supportive of Dousevicz’ plan to invest $10 million in the construction of a new, four-story building that would include a mix of independent and assisted living for seniors, as well as a specialized “memory care” component. However, he said he wasn’t convinced the project wouldn’t be built even without a local agreement that would phase in the municipal tax increase associated with the development over five years instead of one.

Under the terms of the agreement approved by the board, the project would be taxed for municipal purposes based on 10% of its new assessed value in its first year of operation. That figure would increase to 20% the following year, 40% the year after that, 60% in the agreement’s fourth year, and 80% in its fifth, and final, year.

The agreement is structured so the project would pay municipal taxes based on 100% of its assessed value six years after it opened.

According to Hansen’s calculations Dousevicz would be saving roughly $160,000 over the life of the agreement — money the town would otherwise be entitled to collect to.

“I’m not convinced that forgoing 160,000 in tax revenue is a wise use of taxpayer money,” he said.

Others, including former board member Ture Nelson, who was tapped as chairman of the economic development council, and Planning Commission Chairwoman Karla Nuissl, provided a different perspective.

Nelson noted that even with the discount, Spruce Place would generate significant new property taxes over the duration of the agreement, while Nuissl worried other development that has been rumored might be discouraged if the stabilization of the incentive were denied.

Jaime Stewart, executive director of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation, agreed.

Stewart, who was recruited to serve on the local economic development council that reviewed the Spruce Place request, said denying an application that met all of the criteria wouldn’t be wise.

“That will change the perception of how developers will look at doing development here,” he said.

Stewart said there is no requirement that tax stabilization only be offered to projects that wouldn’t be built otherwise, and he wouldn’t recommend making that change.

Nelson said the board had never denied a stabilization request that met all the requirements of the policy and argued it shouldn’t start with Spruce Place.

“I think it’s a good project for the town,” he said, noting it was consistent with the town’s 2008 economic development plan.

Hansen suggested the decade-old plan, and perhaps the policy, should be reviewed — if only because he questioned the wisdom of offering financial incentives to attract development in an area that is already “an attractive place to build.”

Selectman Justin Lawrence said he didn’t object to reviewing the plan or the policy, but said he saw no reason to turn down a qualifying request that will grow the town’s Grand List and create new jobs.

Lawrence was joined by board member Florence Smith and Chairman Brad Towne in voting in favor of approving Dousevicz’ request.

The Spruce Place application is the first the town has received in more than four years.

In 2015, Nelson recalled, an earlier board denied the mall’s belated request to stabilize taxes for a 55,000-square-foot Kohl’s department store that was already under construction at the time.

Spruce Place doesn’t have that problem. Though local permits are in hand, its request for a state land-use permit hasn’t yet been approved and construction isn’t expected to begin until next year.

The tax stabilization policy hasn’t been used successfully since 2014, when Nelson recalled the Select Board approved the now-expiring five-year stabilization agreement for the 21,000-square-foot operations center that Northfield Savings Bank built at the corner of Paine Turnpike North and Stewart Road. Now assessed at more than $4.6 million, Northfield Savings Bank is paying municipal property taxes on about $3.9 million under the stabilization agreement that is in its final year.

The policy has only been used two other times since it was approved by voters in 2011.

The Select Board approved the now-lapsed five-year agreement that helped entice Vermont Mutual Insurance Group to expand from Montpelier to Berlin seven years ago. Since July 1, 2017, Vermont Mutual has been paying municipal taxes based on the full value — now nearly $1.5 million — of its office building on Industrial Lane.

The only other request for tax stabilization was tied to the mall and involved the expansion of Walmart. Nelson said the application was approved by the Select Board six years ago, but later aborted after it was determined the 18,700-square-foot addition needed to accommodate Walmart’s expansion plan wouldn’t significantly increase the mall’s assessed value.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Auxiliary centennial honored on Veterans Day

Veterans Day events this year will include a celebration of the centennial of the American Legion Auxiliary.

The formation of the women’s division followed the founding of the American Legion in the same year, 100 years ago.

Sunday will be a big day for the Auxiliary at the Legion’s Barre Unit (for women; Post for men) #10 on North Main Street.

Beginning at 1 p.m., there will be light refreshments, followed by an official ceremony to celebrate the Auxiliary’s centennial. Officiating will be Post 10 Auxiliary President Charith Zickmund and state Auxiliary President Corrinna Colson.

The ceremony will include the reading of a proclamation from Barre Mayor Lucas Herring.

At 2 p.m., Elvis impersonator Mark Shelton, of Derby, who specializes in raising money for veterans’ organizations, will give a performance. Proceeds from the event will support Colson’s Honor Flight Vermont to fly World War II, Vietnam and Korean war veterans down to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials in the nation’s capital.

“When you think of 100 years serving veterans, that is so big,” said Colson, whose father, Eric Colson, was a Vietnam veteran. “To think about 100 years of these ladies doing this is monumental.”

Anyone interested in attending Sunday’s event at the Legion’s Post 10 in Barre should call 479-9058.

The Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Elks clubs in central Vermont have planned a variety of other events to celebrate Veterans Day, which, on the calendar, is on Monday.

The remembrances started early.

On Friday, Norwich University observed Veterans Day with a Corps of Cadets review on the Upper Parade Ground.

Also on Friday, the Barre Elks Lodge held a dinner for veterans.

Saturday at 8 p.m. Norwich University will host a benefit concert featuring Nashville country music star Jamie Lee Thurston in Plumley Armory. Proceeds will support The Veterans’ Place in Northfield. Advanced tickets for $25 are available at https://alumni.norwich.edu/legacymarchconcert, or you can pay $30 at the door.

On Monday, the Barre Area Veterans Council will host the 20th annual Scouting Salute to Veterans Parade from the Barre Civic Center at 10:30 a.m. to the Youth Triumphant memorial in City Hall Park. The guest speaker will be Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier and event will be followed by a free lunch for vets at the Barre Elks Lodge. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the parade and ceremony will be held in the Barre Municipal Auditorium.

Also on Monday, in Montpelier, members of the American Legion Post 3 on Main Street and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 792 on Pioneer Street will march in a parade at 10 a.m. from Keck Circle at Main and Spring streets to the war memorial at Montpelier High School for a ceremony and wreath-laying. An open house and lunch at both posts will follow.

In the evening, at 6 p.m., the American Legion Post 3 will have an official flag salute presentation by Emile Gosslin.

In Northfield, the American Legion Post 63 will host an open house from noon to 7 p.m. on Monday.

Also on Monday, at 11:30 a.m., Congressman Peter Welch will attend a ceremony at the Veterans Administration in White River Junction.

Then on Tuesday, the Montpelier Elks Club on Country Club Road will host cocktails at 5:30 p.m. and a roast pork dinner with all the trimmings at 6 p.m., which is free for veterans and $12.95 for other guests.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com



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