BURLINGTON — A former Essex Junction couple had returned to the Green Mountain State to celebrate their first wedding anniversary over the weekend when the husband shot his wife multiple times and later dismembered her body, according to Vermont State Police.
Joseph Ferlazzo, 41, most recently of Northfield, New Hampshire, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington to a charge of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Emily Ferlazzo, 22, in Bolton early Saturday morning.
Police and court personnel in Vermont said Wednesday they were hard-pressed to recall such a disturbing killing with the dismembering of the victim into eight pieces.
Ferlazzo, who had a recent address on Park Street in Essex Junction, has been licensed in Vermont for about 10 years as a tattoo operator and body piercer. His wife, Emily Schwarz Ferlazzo was licensed by the state as a nursing assistant, records show.
Joseph Ferlazzo has no known criminal record. Police said the victim’s mother informed police she had been told by her daughter about domestic violence happening. The mother said she had seen scratches and bruises three or four times, police noted.
Ferlazzo during his confession told state police the couple had arrived in Bolton about 7 p.m. Friday to visit his sister and boyfriend at an Airbnb condo. He claimed after the couples separated, he and Emily continued to argue, police said. He said she was kicking and punching him in the arm and groin, Detective Sgt. Jim Vooris wrote in court papers.
Ferlazzo said his wife eventually went to bed in the camper for about five to 10 minutes and that he retrieved his Glock 19 handgun from a cabinet “jumped on top of her” and shot her twice in the head, court records show.
The autopsy Wednesday by the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington confirmed the homicide was due to gunshot wounds to the head. The doctor did not say how many.
Ferlazzo said he had an anxiety attack after the shooting and when he saw blood coming from her head, he put a garbage bag over his wife’s head and moved her into the bathroom in the camper, Vooris said. She remained there while Ferlazzo went out for breakfast in the morning in Waterbury with his sister from Pennsylvania and her boyfriend.
After breakfast, Ferlazzo drove the camper to St. Albans Town and left it at a friend’s home on Meadowbrook Lane. Ferlazzo estimated it was 12 to 15 hours after the shooting that he dismembered the body. He used a hand saw to cut off her feet, legs, arms and head from the body and placed them each in garbage bags, Vooris said. Ferlazzo said he deposited the saw behind the driver’s seat in the camper.
He left the remains in the couple’s camper — a converted bus — at the friend’s home police said. On Monday he drove his motorcycle back to New Hampshire, where he told the victim’s parents a story about the couple fighting and their daughter getting out of the camper on U.S. 2 in Bolton.
They told police that Ferlazzo reported he went to a nearby store and then went back to find his wife, but she had disappeared. She had said she planned to get a lift back to New Hampshire. By Tuesday morning Ferlazzo had driven back to Vermont in a 2016 red Jeep Wrangler.
Ferlazzo, who was an itinerant tattooist, often left things at the homes of customers he befriended, police said. The motorcycle had been one of those items.
Police said they received a 911 call on Tuesday from Spencer Lemons, 35, reporting that Ferlazzo had admitted he had killed his wife. Vooris said.
Detective Trooper Vienna Valenti said Lemons was giving Ferlazzo a ride about 12:05 Tuesday morning to his camper when they noticed state police had it under surveillance, police said. Lemons asked him why and Ferlazzo said his wife was in the camper and not alive, police said. Lemons asked if he killed her and he said “yes,” police noted. Lemons said he kicked Ferlazzo out of the vehicle and called 911, Vooris said.
The camper was seized and towed to the state police barracks in St. Albans.
Getting the breaksVermont State Police say they got a couple of early breaks in the case. The victim’s family reported their daughter missing as soon as they heard about the couple splitting. It also helped getting one of Ferlazzo’s friends to call 911 when the defendant admitted he had killed his wife.
Authorities said they got a third break in the case when one of the top detectives, after many hours of work, stopped to grab a soda at a store in St. Albans about 2 p.m. Tuesday. Detective Sgt. Aimee Nolan, the assistant commander of the crime scene search team, spotted Ferlazzo walking into the Maplefields store near the state police barracks in St. Albans.
Nolan asked about his identity and Ferlazzo agreed to go with Nolan for questioning. When they pulled into the state police barracks Ferlazzo’s camper with the body inside was in the impound lot, records show. Troopers were still seeking the search warrant for the camper. Ferlazzo might have been unaware police had not been inside yet, but proceeded to tell the whole story to troopers, records show.
Once the search warrant was obtained for the camper, many of Ferlazzo’s statements were confirmed, including the eight plastic bags in the camper, records show. One was opened and what appeared to be a leg was spotted, Vooris said. The remainder were sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Nolan also reported the Glock 19 handgun was found on the bed inside the vehicle, Vooris wrote.
The 2000 white Chevrolet Express passenger bus, with Vermont registration plates, was converted into a camper. They have been living recently in Northfield, New Hampshire in the camper parked outside the home of Emily’s mother and stepfather, court records show.
Adrienne Bass, her mother, and David Bass, her stepfather, gave statements to the state police about the missing woman. Mrs. Bass noted the past domestic abuse, but officials have said no court action was sought.
Vermont officials also confirmed that police in Pennsylvania have reached out to Vermont authorities concerning the unsolved fatal stabbing death of Ferlazzo’s stepmother in 2009. James Ferlazzo Sr. reported he went to the store and came home to find his wife had been killed, news reports indicate. Young Hee Lin-Ferlazzo, 39, died from multiple stab wounds and nobody has been charged in court.
Ferlazzo answered a few basic questions from the judge during the virtual court hearing and entered a not guilty plea. He is jailed at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town.
Judge A. Gregory Rainville agreed with the written motion from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George that Ferlazzo be held without bail. Rainville told Ferlazzo that the crime carries a possible life sentence upon conviction. He said the state police affidavit does provide a great weight of evidence.
George also asked Ferlazzo be ordered to have no contact directly or indirectly with the victim’s family and with the key witnesses.
Defense lawyer William Kidney asked that a hearing be held promptly on the weight of the evidence to see if his client should be detained. Rainville said he expects it will be in the next week or two.
BARRE — It isn’t a problem that is easily solved, and it is one that has perplexed Barre’s retiring city manager for most of his 11-year tenure, and it is largely to blame for the sticker shock Steve Mackenzie predicts will be sparked by the first draft of his final budget proposal.
Growth in Barre’s Grand List hasn’t kept pace with city spending, placing pressure on a municipal tax rate that is already among the highest in the state.
Mackenzie told city councilors Tuesday night there is no sign that troubling trend will end any time soon. He warned that would become clear when he delivers the draft of a budget they have digested in department-sized pieces during the past several weeks next month.
“That budget proposal is going to have a … tax rate increase that I think will be, if I’m lucky, in the 5% range,” Mackenzie said, noting the council’s comfort level has historically been closer to 2%.
“I just don’t think that’s realistic,” he said.
Mackenzie, who told councilors Tuesday night a 3% increase “might be doable” said Wednesday it would be daunting given the numbers he’s currently crunching.
“I’ll be happy if we get to 3(%),” he said. “We’re nowhere near that right now.”
For the moment, Mackenzie is still trying to get the projected increase down to 5%, which would translate into nearly a 10-cent spike in the municipal portion of the tax rate.
That rate, which now sits at $1.9769-per-$100 assessed property value, pays for the day-to-day operation of the city and doesn’t include Barre’s share of the Barre Unified Union School District.
Even if Mackenzie were able to hit the 2% target he believes is out of reach, the projected tax rate would surpass the $2-mark. A 2% increase would add about 4 cents to the rate and $40 in taxes for every $100,000 in assessed property value. The tax bill for a $200,000 home would climb $80.
A 3% increase would add about 6 cents to the rate and $60 in taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value. Schools aside, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $120 more in taxes under that scenario.
A 10-cent increase, which Mackenzie expects will be reflected in his first draft, would add $100 in taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value, or $200 to the tax bill for a home assessed at $200,000.
Mackenzie told councilors that will likely be the starting point for their deliberations.
Based on recent presentations the draft budget is expected to reflect funding for four new positions — an assistant public works director, a junior planner, a custodian and an information technology administrator.
Mackenzie told councilors he might request their permission to fill the position this fiscal year. Though it is unbudgeted, he said the need is now, the current arrangement is not sustainable and surplus funds are available to cover the expense.
Councilor Jake Hemmerick acknowledged what he characterized as “capacity constraints” that argue for adding the new positions that are expected to be included in the draft budget and perhaps even filling one of them early. However, he said, the prospect makes him uneasy.
“When we look at a … city that is losing population, is not adding a lot of new structures, but we have staff and costs growing … it makes me a little nervous,” Hemmerick said, suggesting the trends underscore the importance of community and economic development in a city with a stagnant tax base.
“To keep adding expense without adding commensurate Grand List growth?” he asked. “The sustainability thing is keeping me up at night a little bit.”
Mackenzie told Hemmerick he was preaching to the choir.
“Our biggest challenge is the Grand List and growing it,” he said.
Mackenzie said even 2% a year growth would relieve the “tax pressure” that makes budget season particularly challenging in Barre.
None of that will change between now and when Mackenzie delivers his first draft of the budget to councilors at their Nov. 9 meeting, or when voters consider the product of that process on Town Meeting Day in March.
It is why, Mackenzie said, in a year when the city will shed $100,000 in debt service — some for the Vermont Granite Museum, some for the Barre Municipal Auditorium and some for a firetruck — he is planning to plow those savings into the general fund to support new positions.
“Ideally. we would like to segregate that money out and put it to capital (projects) or something else,” he said.
Instead, Mackenzie said the savings will be used to subsidize the general fund in what he characterized as a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach to budgeting.
It isn’t optimal, but Mackenzie said, it has been necessary to avoid outsized tax increases in a community that doesn’t have much tolerance for them.
Mackenzie predicted the new positions will likely be debated and all may not survive. He told councilors that isn’t a reflection of “need.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be so much a question of ‘wants’ versus ‘needs’ as much as it’s a question of ‘how many needs can we afford?’” he said.
BARRE — A psychiatrist has determined a Worcester man is not competent to stand trial in a case where the man is accused of killing local mechanic Michael Stone in a Nov. 2018 crash.
Jonathan Townsend, 46, faces a felony count of gross negligent vehicle operation with death resulting. If convicted, Townsend could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in May 2019 in Washington County criminal court in Barre. He has been released on conditions.
According to court records, Townsend was driving a 2013 Ford F-350 on East Barre Road which was pulling a homemade, unregistered trailer that had a small tractor on it. Stone was driving a 2008 Chevrolet Suburban.
Police said Townsend reported he picked up the tractor at a family member’s home and hooked the trailer to the truck himself. He told police he was driving when he heard a loud crash behind him. Townsend reported he realized the trailer had detached, according to court records. Police said the tractor was found upside down in the road near Stone’s vehicle, which was sideways.
Police said the trailer was connected to the truck via two chains and a strap, all of which broke while Townsend was driving.
The trailer detached and hit Stone’s vehicle head-on, according to court records. Police said the force from the crash caused the tractor to fly off the trailer and land in the roadway. Stone was pronounced dead at the scene.
Stone was the owner of Stone’s Service Station on Washington Street in Barre, a business he bought in October 1985. Stone was known throughout the community for being a strong family man and deeply devoted to his customers, neighbors and friends over many years.
Dr. Jonathan Weker conducted a competency evaluation on Townsend. The doctor testified at a hearing Wednesday that Townsend’s competency is impacted by three factors: He has a low IQ, he has suffered multiple significant head injuries resulting in a traumatic brain injury and he suffers from depression. Weker said these issues would impact Townsend’s ability to properly communicate with his attorney, Robert Sheftman.
Weker said Townsend’s family reported Townsend had suffered four significant head injuries starting when he was about 10 years old and into his early 20s. He said some of the injuries caused Townsend to lose consciousness and three of them sent him to the hospital.
Tests have shown Townsend has an IQ score of 72. Weker said that puts Townsend on the borderline of having an intellectual disability.
He said Townsend has suffered from depression for most of his life.
Weker said it is possible Townsend could be found competent in the future if he partakes in treatment.
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault disputed the current finding of incompetency. Thibault said the doctor failed to take into account accommodations that could be made to help Townsend better understand what was going on during the trial. The prosecutor said multiple breaks could be held over the course of the trial so that Townsend can talk with his attorney. He said there could be a limited number of witnesses who would testify to reduce the amount of information Townsend would have to process.
Thibault said Townsend recently went through a divorce proceeding and his competency wasn’t at issue there. He also noted Townsend was involved in a breaking and entering case in the 1990s, after he had suffered the head injuries, and was not found incompetent in that criminal proceeding.
Judge Kevin Griffin said he would take the matter under advisement and issue a written decision at a later date.
Thibault said if the judge finds Townsend not competent to stand trial, the prosecutor would not dismiss the charge. Criminal charges are sometimes dismissed when a defendant is found incompetent. Instead, he said he would move for an order of non-hospitalization which would place Townsend in the custody of the state Department of Mental Health for 90 days where he would undergo treatment. Thibault said after the 90 days are up, he would seek another evaluation of Townsend to see if the treatment had helped Townsend to the point that he would be competent for a trial.
Petito’s case garnered widespread media attention — as well as criticism of news outlets for not covering similar cases involving people of color.
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