MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected convicted murderer Jody Herring’s appeal of her sentence of life in prison without parole.
Herring, 43, was sentenced in November 2017 for killing Department for Children and Families worker Lara Sobel, 48, and three relatives — cousins Rhonda Herring, 48, Regina Herring, 43, and her aunt, Julie Falzarano, 73. Herring killed Sobel outside the DCF offices at Barre City Place on Aug. 7, 2015. Police said she killed her family members at a Berlin farmhouse earlier that day, although their bodies were not discovered until the next day.
She pleaded guilty to four counts of murder in July 2017.
Because Herring was given a life sentence, state law requires the case be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.
She was represented by Joshua O’Hara out of the Defender General’s office. O’Hara argued Judge John Pacht, who sentenced Herring, abused his discretion because he used Herring’s history of trauma against her instead of using it as a mitigating factor against a life sentence.
O’Hara argued that Pacht concluded, erroneously, that Herring would be released without rehabilitation if she were allowed parole. He said when someone has the ability to get parole, whether they are rehabilitated is taken into consideration.
The state was represented by Solicitor General Benjamin Battles out of the Attorney General’s office. Battles argued that Pacht wasn’t required to weigh Herring’s past more heavily than the other evidence considered in the case, including the evidence that suggested Herring’s prospects for treatment were “dim.”
Battles argued Pacht also did not sentence Herring with the thought that she would be released on parole without treatment.
The two sides made their cases via oral argument in February. The state Supreme Court released its decision Friday siding with the state.
The court said Pacht did take Herring’s history, and the subsequent anxiety disorder that resulted from it, into account when he sentenced her, but in his sentencing remarks he did not find it was the primary cause for her to commit the murders. It said rage appeared to be the motivating factor in the killings. The court said Pacht did not abuse his discretion.
“Finally, to the extent that the court took defendant’s anxiety-related mistrust of others — and the resulting likelihood that she might resist treatment — into account in sentencing her to life imprisonment without parole, this was a legitimate consideration because of its link to the prospective safety of the community,” the Supreme Court wrote.
It added later on in the decision that risk to public safety is something a court is required to consider when sentencing someone.
The court said Pacht did not hold Herring’s past against her and did appear to use it as a mitigating circumstance like O’Hara wanted.
As for the rehabilitation piece, the court said Pacht was clear when he explained he gave Herring the life sentence without parole based on “the magnitude of the crime,” not on whether Herring would be receptive to treatment.
“The court repeatedly emphasized the nature of the crime, and the effects it had on the victims’ families and friends, and on the safety and well-being of DCF workers,” the Supreme Court wrote.
BURLINGTON — Defense witnesses on Friday began to sketch a portrait of a Williston man facing second-degree murder charges as somebody depressed over financial insecurity, displeasure at work, and a stressful family situation.
Lawyers for Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, maintain their client was insane when he killed five Central Vermont teens by driving his speeding truck in the wrong direction and slamming into their Volkswagen on Interstate 89 in Williston on Oct. 8, 2016.
Bourgoin’s former fiancé, Anila Lawrence, of Williston, was the first defense witness and talked about their eight-year relationship. It appeared to hit rock bottom on May 12, 2016. She said Bourgoin threatened to drive her, their daughter and himself into a South Burlington pond to end their lives.
“We can all just die in the pond,” she quoted him as saying. He had been driving erratically that day as they drove through Williston, Essex and South Burlington, she said.
Lawrence said that was when she agreed to 50-50 custody of their daughter “so we could just go home.” Bourgoin had been allowed one hour of supervised visitation each Saturday morning at Essex gymnastics.
It was in sharp contrast to his behavior early in their relationship. She termed their relationship as “good” between 2008 and 2013. They bought a condo in Williston in 2010 and went on trips to Mexico, the Bahamas, California and Jamaica.
Lawrence said she learned in June 2013 that she was pregnant on the same day Bourgoin was on his way home to ask her to marry him. Bourgoin was initially happy, especially when he learned it would be a daughter.
She would be the first granddaughter on his side of the family.
“His mother always wanted one,” Lawrence said. But soon things went downhill due to family, work and tight finances. “It got a little tricky.”
During their time together, Bourgoin went through a series of jobs at a Toyota dealership, later at Blodgett Supply, as a stay-at-home dad, and at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Williston. Lawrence said he was depressed, talked more on the phone, and stayed up late at night to spend time on the Internet. Bourgoin also began to have intense mood swings — something Lawrence said she had never seen before.
He got more angry about money issues and shutoff notices from utilities, she said.
Bourgoin also was using marijuana, but had stopped drinking, Lawrence told the court.
Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to the five second-degree murder charges and two misdemeanor motor vehicle counts. Those counts center on him taking a Williston Police cruiser and crashing into his truck and other vehicles at the initial crash scene.
Authorities said when Bourgoin crashed, he had multiple drugs in his system.
Lawrence said the talked about having two weddings — one in Massachusetts, where his grandmother lived, and one in Vermont.
The wedding in Vermont was planned for The Ponds at Bolton Valley, but Bourgoin one day said that he suddenly did not want to have anybody in the wedding party, she said. They called their friends that were expected to be bridesmaids and ushers and told them they were out.
Defense lawyer Robert Katims asked about two domestic abuse cases that led to Bourgoin’s arrest in Massachusetts and later in Williston in May 2016.
Lawrence also acknowledged that Bourgoin acted strange, including the day he took her for a ride to Alburgh to show her the abandoned missile silo that the military used to maintain.
Katims had said in his opening statement that Bourgoin thought he was on a “government mission.”
Lawrence kept her head down throughout her testimony and her long hair covered most of her face. She walked into the courtroom with the hood up on her rain jacket. Lawrence never looked at Bourgoin during her testimony. During bench conferences between the judge and lawyers, Lawrence spun her chair to the left, leaving her back to face Bourgoin.
Also called to the witness stand was Shannon Roberto of St. Michael’s College Rescue to talk about Bourgoin’s demeanor at the crash site. Roberto testified, “The patient was in and out of responsiveness.”
Roberto, an emergency medical technician, also testified Bourgoin appeared confused and disoriented. Bourgoin asked where he was and where he was going, she said. She said she sat next to him in the back of the St. Michael’s College ambulance that eventually took Bourgoin to a Burlington hospital where he was admitted.
Bourgoin also apparently thought Roberto was somebody he knew as having a different hair color and children. Roberto, a college senior, said she had never met Bourgoin.
Also testifying was a former co-worker and neighbor, Alen Sosabic, of Williston. He also allowed Bourgoin to live with his family while Lawrence was living with her parents in Colchester.
Sosabic said the two men talked about Bourgoin’s financial troubles and job issues because they had worked together at two places. He said Bourgoin paced around the house and at one point made a false claim that Sosabic was talking about Bourgoin behind his back.
The day of the crash, Bourgoin showed up at Sosabic’s residence about 4 a.m. and asked if Lawrence was there, he said. She wasn’t, but he invited Bourgoin in and they talked again about his ongoing personal problems.
Sosabic said at one point he suggested Bourgoin take a job at a McDonald’s restaurant to avoid job stress.
Hinesburg Police Chief Frank Koss also testified briefly so the video from his body camera could be introduced as evidence. For the most part, Bourgoin was motionless, but at times he did squirm.
The two sides also stipulated dash cam video from the cruiser operated by South Burlington Police Officer Michael DeFiore the night of the crash could be used as evidence. As DeFiore escorts one of the women injured in the second crash, she is overheard shouting vulgar names at Bourgoin as he is attended to by medical personnel in the grassy median.
With the state resting its case at the end of Thursday, the defense began Friday with the traditional motion seeking dismissal of the murder charges on grounds the state failed to prove its case. Katims said the state failed to show any intent on the part of Bourgoin.
“There is a vacuum,” Katims said about not showing any intent.
He noted that not everybody driving the wrong way on the interstate has the intent to kill people. Katims noted earlier police testimony about other drivers entering the interstate at an exit have no bad intent. Those drivers are often elderly, got going in the wrong direction, or are from another country.
Katims said the state might be able to show a lesser offense — manslaughter — was possible.
State’s Attorney Sarah George said Bourgoin made a three-point turn in the southbound lane before driving north. She said drivers honked and flashed lights, but he ignored their warnings. George said the state also was under no obligation to show a motive.
Judge Kevin Griffin said under court rules he had to decide the arguments based on the evidence most favorable to the state. He said he thought willful wanton disregard had been shown.
On Monday, the first of two psychiatrists that found Bourgoin insane at the time of the crash is expected to testify.
MONTPELIER — A change of leadership at the Capital City’s premiere art gallery also marks a period of growth and outreach to expand access to the arts in central Vermont.
Margaret Coleman started last week as the new executive director of the T.W. Wood Gallery on Barre Street. She succeeds Ginny Callan, who has been in the position four years. Coleman’s start overlaps with Callan, who’s last day was Friday, to ensure a smooth transition.
Coleman enters the position at a time of growth and new development for the gallery and its adjacent partners — Montiverdi Music School and River Rock School — at The Center for Arts and Learning, which all share space in the former St. Michael’s Catholic School and convent. Founded in 2012, the arts center is now home to over 25 artists, writers and other artisans.
The T.W. Wood Gallery was founded by acclaimed artist Thomas Waterman Wood, a native of Montpelier who headed both the National Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society. The gallery is also home to a collection of artworks under the Works Progress Administration that are featured in revolving exhibitions that were part of The Federal Art Project (1935-1943), a New Deal Program to fund American art projects that sustained some 10,000 artists during the Great Depression.
Today, the gallery also features changing exhibitions of contemporary Vermont artists’ work and runs summer art camps, an after-school program, art classes, art talks and opening art exhibition receptions.
Coleman brings her own diverse immersion in the arts, having worked in a variety of roles at art organizations in New York City and Vermont. She has a bachelor’s art degree from the University of Minnesota, a master’s art degree from the Pratt Institute in New York City, and is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts in Portland, Maine.
Before coming to Montpelier, Coleman spent five years with and was a founding member of Art Shape Mammoth in Burlington, a national arts nonprofit that connects artists with social justice and environmental movements.
Previously, Coleman was also a co-director of the ONE Arts Center in Burlington for five years.
“ONE Arts Center has very similar programming to different parts of the T.W. Wood Gallery, with an after-school art program, summer camps, and focus on families and creative education,” Coleman said.
Also in Burlington, Coleman worked for two years at Flynndog Exhibits, a gallery of contemporary art exhibits. She has been a member of the Burlington City Arts board of directors for five years.
Coleman’s first arts position in Vermont, for two years, was program coordinator at Cold Hollow Sculpture Park in Enosburg Falls, dedicated to the life and work of sculptor David Stromeyer, which features artwork of epic scale in a variety of mediums.
Before coming to Vermont, Coleman worked in the arts in New York City. She spent two years at Hunter College, where she was curator for ceramics exhibition space and an assistant teacher for casting, mold-making and sculpture classes. Coleman also worked as curator for Loft 594, a warehouse gallery space for contemporary arts in Bushwick, and she worked as a sculptor at New York Art Foundry.
“So, there’s a lot of jobs,” Coleman said.
Coleman was first attracted to the state during a 2013 vacation.
“My husband and I came here on a vacation from Brooklyn, and when we saw the beauty and the culture, and the quality of life, we started trying to figure out how to move here,” Coleman said. “We didn’t have kids at the time — we weren’t even married yet — but thought if we wanted to have children, this would be a good place to live.”
The couple now has two children — Ben aged 2, and Pippa, 4 months old — and lives in Burlington. Coleman’s husband, Nicholas, is a paralegal who works for a Stowe law firm.
Coleman said she was attracted to the T.W. Wood Gallery position because it was such a good fit, based on her previous work and experience in the arts.
“When I looked at this job description, the thing that really drew me was that it fulfills all the different aspects of the things that I’m interested in,” Coleman said. “It’s got historical work, then it’s got contemporary art and then it also has education programs and outreach to the community.
”So, when I saw what it really was, I got really excited,” she added. “It’s not just going to put me in one box; there are so many different ways to engage, which is why I put in an application. It keeps the interest going to have different projects at the same time, with all the different spaces, the different exhibition places and the programs and classes. It feels like it will keep me going.”
Callan said the transition with Coleman has gone well.
“It’s going great,” Callan said. “She comes in with a lot of great tools and experience that I think will help make the transition easy.”
One of several candidates for the gallery position, Callan said Coleman stood out when the gallery’s board of trustees interviewed her for the position.
“She’s done curating and run galleries and run camps and after-school programs, which we focus on a lot with children and art, so she’s got all that experience,” Callan said.
Coincidentally, Callan said she would also discontinue the work she has performed for the past eight years as a member of the Act 250 District 5 Environmental Commission that considers development under Vermont’s land use law. She was not reappointed for the position.
“This is actually interesting timing because my time with Act 250 is ending at about the same time I chose to stop working, professionally, at the gallery,” Callan said. “So, for me, it’s kind of like I’m coming into a very clean slate of new opportunities and also time for me to take a break and just kayak, and garden, and take the summer off and think about what I want to do.”
For more information about the T.W. Wood Gallery, visit www.twwoodgallery.org.
BARRE — With one board now standing solidly behind one $45.1 million budget, voters in Barre and Barre Town will collectively decide on Tuesday whether to approve the first-ever spending plan for a merged pre-K-12 school district that is otherwise ready to launch on July 1.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Barre Municipal Auditorium for city voters and the gymnasium at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School for town voters. The combined results will determine the fate of a budget that would finance the operation of currently autonomous elementary schools in both communities, jointly owned Spaulding High School, and administrative services.
The elimination of the supervisory union structure and the shift to a single school board are part of a merger that was ordered under Act 46.
There are several other forced mergers in the works, but none are as far along as the one in Barre. The transition follows a three-year process that featured two failed attempts at voluntary merger that would have leveraged an estimated $5 million in tax incentives. Those incentives would have shaved 20 cents off the education tax rate for the merged district over four years, starting with an 8-cent reduction in its first fiscal year.
Those incentives were lost when Barre Town voters didn’t approve the merger by a wide enough margin in January to overturn their earlier rejection of the proposal last November.
Since that January re-vote, voters in Barre and Barre Town have modified articles of agreement for the merged district, elected a new, nine-member school board to run it and are now being asked to weigh in its first budget.
Early voting is underway and an informational meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday in the Spaulding library. However, Tuesday is when the newly elected board will trot out a school budget that is far larger than any voters in either community have considered.
That’s because those voters have separately approved budgets for their respective elementary schools, jointly approved the spending plan for the high school, and never been asked to approve a supervisory union budget — which was $15.2 million this year.
The proposed budget’s $45.1 million bottom line rolls all of those costs and revenues into one and enjoys the unanimous support of the recently elected board, according to Chairman Paul Malone.
“Every board member is completely behind this budget because it’s the right thing to do,” said Malone, who lives in Barre Town and is currently pulling double duty as chairman of the Spaulding board.
Board members — four from the city, four from the town and one jointly elected — had to act fast following their April 9 election in order to warn a budget vote that coincided with Barre Town’s annual municipal elections on Tuesday.
Thanks to work done by a transitional board on which he also served, Malone said the school spending plan reflects a level of fiscal prudence he hopes will be rewarded by voters on Tuesday.
The transitional board recommended more than $640,000 in budget adjustments — including more than $440,000 in cuts — during its deliberations.
Those cuts included $300,000 in proposed new positions and $140,800 from a larger increase in the line item for building maintenance.
Board members agreed that, while valuable, some of the requested new positions weren’t critical this year and agreed a sizable increase in building maintenance could be dialed back, while still moving closer to what they were told was the industry standard of $1 per square foot of school building. The proposed budget reflects 80 cents per square foot — less than Spaulding has been spending, but significantly more than either of the elementary school boards have budgeted in the past.
Malone said those cuts, coupled with a decision to use $200,000 in available surplus funds to reduce the projected tax impact of the proposed budget, were responsible.
The proposed budget does include six new positions. Three — a behavior specialist, a literacy interventionist and a school resource officer — would be based at the pre-K-8 school in Barre Town. Two others — a work-based learning coordinator and a science teacher — are needed at Spaulding. The sixth position is an assistant special education director, who would oversee existing in-district alternative programs and students whose special needs currently require expensive out-of-district placements.
Board members agreed they could not comfortably cut any of those positions, and Malone described the proposed budget as “extremely tight.”
“We’ve trimmed everything we can,” Malone said. “Anything more means cutting programs and we’re not prepared to do that at this time.”
Malone said the budget includes money to cover a yet-to-be-negotiated teachers contract and absorbs an 11.8% increase in health insurance.
Year to year comparisons are problematic because the new district didn’t exist last year. However, the combined education spending for the three districts that did was $31.95 million. That figure represents the combined cost of running the districts after deducting revenue that flowed to the supervisory union. The comparable figure required by the budget proposed by the board is roughly $32.7 million — an increase of about $700,000.
That translates into $13,562 in spending per equalized pupil — a theoretical increase of 4.36% if you calculate the spending per equalized pupil of the three existing districts as if they were merged this year.
Sonya Spaulding, who serves as chairwoman of the city’s school board and was elected to lead the new district’s finance committee earlier his week, notes the merged district — like the three it will replace — sports among the lowest spending per equalized pupils in the state.
Among the examples cited by Spaulding include Twinfield ($18,261), Harwood ($17,958), and Montpelier-Roxbury ($16,350). The average projected spending per equalized pupils in the 11 districts surrounding Barre is just under $17,000, she said.
Superintendent John Pandolfo is projecting the education tax rate will increase by 5 cents in both communities if the budget is approved, though he said that is a “conservative estimate” based on legislative conversations that should provide some relief with respect to a key figure used to calculate tax rates.
Pandolfo’s projections don’t assume an increase in the homestead property yield that could trim as much as 2 cents off the 5-cent rate hike that is being forecast.
If the past two special elections are any indication, turnout will likely be low in the city, though Spaulding and others are doing their best to get out the vote on a day when Barre voters aren’t used to voting.
Barre Town doesn’t have that problem, because while voters there typically consider school spending proposals in March — just like their counterparts in the city — their municipal elections have historically been held on the second Tuesday in May.
With both major municipal budgets and a couple of contested races for seats on the Select Board set to be decided in Barre Town on Tuesday, the budget for the merged school district will be an added attraction.
Voters in both communities will also be asked to approve a companion request to spend $3 million on the operation of the Central Vermont Career Center during the fiscal year that starts July 1.
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