Thread: St. Albans Messenger
Did anyone else catch this?
Gunshot on Federal Street
Shooter’s acquittal worries authorities
ST. ALBANS CITY –– Matthew Martel is polite and has soft, boy-band looks. He was home-schooled and lives with his genial parents, Bob and Deborah, in a rustic white house with a wraparound porch that overlooks Route 105.
Martel does not look like a member of the Franklin County Sportsman’s Club, but he is. He does not come off as someone who would buy a $450 handgun for target practice, but he did. Nor does he strike you as someone who pocketed a loaded handgun for protection four or five times during the last three years, but he has.
Carrying a loaded handgun is not against the law in Vermont, and St. Albans City ordinances only prohibit guns in parks.
“I think this city’s becoming a haven for criminals,” Martel said recently.
That, he said, is why he loaded his Smith & Wesson with 10 rounds of ammo before walking to a friend’s house to play video games and watch a movie last Aug. 13. It was 10:30 p.m. They went to another friend’s house. At 2:45 a.m. the next day, Martel – the designated driver with a buddy’s car – dropped a friend at his North Elm Street home and trekked toward his residence, his gun concealed.
This is Martel’s account of what happened next.
He cut through the Food City parking lot and saw Jonathan Bushee and Jonathan Wells – both from Berkshire, both about his age – standing on a set of railroad tracks, at Lake Street. Heidi Chauvin, 16, also of Berkshire, waited nearby, with Hans Gill, of Enosburg.
Martel didn’t know them. They didn’t know Martel.
Wells was urinating on the tracks.
“Quit looking at me *******, you (expletive) queer,” Wells said.
“Yeah, ******,” Bushee added.
Martel kept mum and walked. He knew they were drunk. They later admitted they were.
Near the former Giroux furniture building, Bushee tried to cross the street, toward Martel. Martel immediately brandished his gun and cocked it.
“Leave me alone,” he said.
Bushee didn’t cross or speak to Martel. No one did.
Martel thought about crossing over to Catherine Street and toward the police station, on Lower Welden. Instead, he headed north on Federal Street, thinking “home.” He heard Bushee and the others again, 15 feet behind him.
“I’ve had a gun pulled on me before!” Bushee yelled. “I’m not afraid!”
Bushee’s bravado scared Martel.
“You don’t want to do this,” Martel said.
“Yes, I do,” Bushee said, now 2 feet behind Martel. “Put the gun to my head and pull the (expletive) trigger.”
Martel walked backwards, gun in hand, as Bushee and Wells closed the gap.
“You really don’t want to do this,” Martel repeated.
“Yes, I do,” Bushee replied.
Even with a near-fatal gunshot wound in his left thigh, Bushee, with Wells, chased Martel. Martel jumped on a northbound train. His gun discharged again, accidentally. He traveled about 50 yards, jumped off and returned to his friend’s North Elm Street home for the night. Martel’s brother urged him to surrender to police later that day.
“I didn’t do it sooner, because I panicked,” Martel said.
“I would have done the same thing,” his father added. “I would have been so afraid.”
The shooting hung over the Martels for almost a year. Matthew's conditions of release prohibited him from being alone, which strained Bob and Deborah’s marriage. Matthew shrunk from 165 to 130 pounds and is being treated for depression for the second time in three years. The case has made it difficult for him to find work, he said.
When the jury rendered its verdict, he nearly cried.
“I felt like I had 20,000 pounds lifted off my back,” his father said.
Given the straightforward language of Vermont’s self-defense law, Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie felt confident about Martel’s trial, but he harbored concerns about how the jury would perceive Bushee. Bushee had told a TV reporter that he “always wondered how it felt to get shot.” Bushee had a criminal record. Martel didn’t; he still doesn’t.
According to Lavoie, Martel arrived at the 9 a.m. trial wearing a nicely tailored, dark suit with a royal blue shirt and gold tie. His hair was short and spiked.
Bushee took the stand with a whiskered chin. He wore a T-shirt and cargo pants, and his tattoos were visible.
On the witness stand, Bushee said he and his friends were at a Federal Street party and were returning there when they came up behind Martel. They weren’t intentionally following him, Bushee said.
The gunshot wound to Bushee’s inner left thigh was inches from an artery that, with a direct hit, might have caused fatal bleeding, Lavoie said. Bushee was treated and released that night but returned to the hospital for a week with an infection that nearly caused amputation.
Martel testified that he carried the gun and used it because he didn’t feel safe leaving home without it, given St. Albans’ recent crime sprees. He shot Bushee because he felt threatened, he said in court.
“The gist of his testimony,” Lavoie recalled, “was that it was a habit to carry this gun, and that it was for self-protection.”
During Lavoie’s closing remarks, he reminded the jury that even though they would rather take Martel to dinner than Bushee, the case was about an unnecessary, illegal use of deadly force. Martel shot an unarmed man without first exercising any other means of self-defense, Lavoie explained. No one touched Martel. He never ran or cried for help before he fired.
After 2 ½ hours of deliberations, the jury acquitted Martel. Bushee’s family wept.
“I don’t believe this,” Lavoie thought.
The jury volunteered to undergo a post-trial survey from Lavoie. His first question: “What were you thinking?”
In retrospect, Lavoie wishes he had started more diplomatically, because the jury became defensive.
“For us,” a female juror said, “it came down to credibility.”
“About what?” Lavoie asked.
Another juror saw Bushee as the aggressor. That didn’t matter, Lavoie repeated. With no gun, he said, Martel would have been forced to find other means of protection. By even carrying the gun, Lavoie continued, Martel saw no other alternative but deadly force.
“The victim was drunk,” Lavoie said, “but is death the penalty for that?”
“I have no doubt in my mind that if the defendant had not shot the victim,” another juror argued, “the defendant would be dead.”
That night, Lavoie wondered whether state lawmakers would use Martel’s acquittal to tighten Vermont’s handgun laws – not to infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights, but to prevent a Bernie Goetz mentality (the infamous New Yorker shot alleged assailants on a subway) from overtaking the state.
The next day, the U.S. Supreme Court historically overturned a Washington, D.C., handgun ban. The 5-4 decision marked the first time in 70 years that the nation’s highest judges had dealt with the Second Amendment.
“I think it is an unfortunate decision,” Lavoie said. “It limits the government’s ability to control guns. Carrying a gun to go hunting is different than carrying a handgun on Federal Street at three o’clock in the morning.”
Lavoie said Martel’s acquittal has no legal implications, nor does it set any precedent.
“But in terms of the facts, and what a jury perceives as acceptable behavior,” he said, “it frightens me as a prosecutor.”
Gary Taylor, St. Albans City police chief, called the verdict “bad timing, and bad for St. Albans.”
“This is one case,” he said. “It’s about a victim and a decision that was made after hearing testimony. That shouldn’t be confused with a blanket message about this being appropriate conduct, if there is no legitimate reason.”
Taylor was visiting his daughter in Massachusetts last Aug. 14. City Police Lt. Judy Dunn called him early that morning and said officers were investigating a shooting, Taylor’s first since he became chief in July 2005. The suspect was on the loose.
“I felt like I needed to come back home,” Taylor recalled, “and I had some assurances that I didn’t need to.”
Still, he cut his trip short. When he returned to St. Albans, he learned Judge Ben Joseph had released Martel into the custody of his parents. No bail.
“I don’t think this was a random attack,” Joseph said at Martel’s arraignment. “It grew out of a confrontation, as it was.”
City police were already dealing with frightening crime trends when Martel shot Bushee. Weapons-related violence. Drugs. Gang-like activity. They were rampant – and still are. The Federal Street shooting weighed heavily in Taylor’s decision to hold a public safety forum last October. About 200 people attended. Following a similar session this year, the city council formed an ad hoc committee to address St. Albans’ crime problem.
At least four city policemen took the stand at Martel’s trial, each describing the investigation. Officers from three agencies scoured the city for Martel and cordoned off the Kingman-Lake Street block. The operation cost an estimated $6,000 in salaries alone, Taylor said.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., on June 25, City Police Sgt. Ben Couture walked into Taylor’s office.
“The jury found him not guilty,” Couture said.
Taylor was silent. He e-mailed Mayor Marty Manahan and Dominic Cloud, city manager, warning them that the verdict “could be interpreted as a message to the bad guys that people were going to stand up for themselves, or that the bad guys would now believe they could do this sort of thing and get away with it.”
“We were concerned that a self-defense claim would be a strong possibility,” Taylor said. “We believed they would make that argument.”
Martel believes it was his only argument. Today, he seeks work through a temp agency. He wants to save money and buy a car. He doesn’t want to walk anymore. He also won’t carry a gun anymore, he said.
What has he learned from all this?
“Wear running shoes.”
Guns for protection: That’s everyone’s right
Quoting from “Gunshot on Federal Street; Shooter’s acquittal worries authorities,” July 10, 2008, St. Albans Messenger: “Taylor was silent. He e-mailed Mayor Marty Manahan and Dominic Cloud, city manager, warning them that the verdict “could be interpreted as a message to the bad guys that people were going to stand up for themselves...”
I am not sure why Mr. Taylor thinks this would be a bad thing. If he truly does, perhaps being police chief is not the right position for him. The best possible message to send to criminals is that attempting violence on law-abiding citizens can end in the violent injury or death of the criminal, and the citizen will not be liable for any “damages” incurred by the criminal.
[Further quoting the article], “During Lavoie’s closing remarks, he reminded the jury that even though they would rather take Martel to dinner than Bushee, the case was about an unnecessary, illegal use of deadly force.”
Mr. Lavoie has just proved himself unfit to hold any public office. A law-abiding citizen, going about lawful activities, is accosted by two individuals engaging in unlawful activities, who then state their intentions to do him violent harm and move in a manner that underscores their threat. The citizen has no obligation to submit to criminal activity, no legal or moral obligation to retreat, and should indeed be morally and legally obligated to resist unlawful activity being forced on himself.
If Mr Lavoie believes we should grovel to criminals, he should be in criminal defense, not in the State Attorney’s office in the guise of a “public servant.”
Stand up for your rights Vermonters.
Tucson, Ariz. (via Burlington, Vt.)
Anyone have other info on this incident?
ETA: I didn't put that title on my response, the SAMcame up withthat one on their own...
Oops, I couldn't remember if I first saw the story here on OCDO or at KABA. Looks like maybe I got it here...
Thank you Mr. Huffman!