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    Vermont Supreme Court ruling reinstates murder charge against former Orleans County man

    By Alan J. Keays,

    30 days ago

    A divided Vermont Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that threw out a murder charge against a former Orleans County man whose daughter died in 2016 from what police described as complications from an intentional injury he inflicted on her as a 1-month-old in 2001.

    The high court’s 3-2 decision, issued Friday in the case against Jason Roberts, stems from prosecutors’ appeal of the dismissal of the murder charge against Roberts by trial court Judge Michael Kupersmith in February 2023.

    That dismissal, according to the Vermont Supreme Court ruling, was based “on the common-law year-and-a-day rule, under which ‘no defendant could be convicted of murder unless his victim had died by the defendant’s act within a year and a day of the act.’”

    The rule, according to the Vermont Supreme Court’s majority opinion, arose to protect defendants from murder convictions in a bygone era when the passage of time made it hard to prove that the defendant’s action resulted in a death.

    “A supposed inability to determine the cause of death after more than a year has elapsed, as a justification for the rule, gives way in the face of modern medicine,” justices wrote in the majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Paul Reiber and joined by justices Karen Carroll and Nancy Waples.

    “The rule once reflected the need for maintaining accuracy and reliability and attaining justice in murder prosecutions when the rudimentary medical knowledge available made establishing causation beyond a reasonable doubt impossible after substantial time had elapsed.

    “But today, advances in medical science have so wholly undermined this rationale and supposed purpose of the rule ‘as to render it without question obsolete,’” he added, citing previous case law.

    Justice Harold Eaton authored a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice William Cohen, taking aim with applying the change retrospectively in this case.

    Eaton wrote that he agreed with the majority’s decision to “abrogate,” or essentially invalidate, the year-and-a-day rule, but found “it is fundamentally unfair … to apply that abrogation to this defendant and permit the State to prosecute him for murder.

    “Choosing instead to abrogate the year-and-a-day rule on a purely prospective basis would be appropriate, fair, and entirely consistent with the full scope of federal law on this matter,” Eaton wrote.

    Roberts was charged with first-degree aggravated domestic assault in Orleans County Superior Court in 2001. He was accused in that case of shaking his infant daughter, Destiny Roberts, at their home in Derby, according to a police affidavit filed in support of the murder charge.

    The baby — who was later adopted and named Madison Simoneau — suffered “severe” brain injuries from shaken baby syndrome, the affidavit stated, resulting in quadriplegia, a seizure disorder and blindness in one eye. She required medical care until her death.

    In 2002, Roberts pleaded no contest to a domestic assault charge and was sentenced to four to 15 years in prison. He was released in 2011, according to court records.

    Madison died in July 2016 at Boston Children’s Hospital when she was 15 years old, according to court filings. The Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy and found her death to be a homicide caused by “‘complications of remote acceleration/deceleration of the head’ (traumatic brain injury),” charging documents stated.

    An investigation ensued. In April 2022, Roberts, who was living in Tennessee, was arrested and charged in Vermont with second-degree murder in Madison’s death.

    Kupersmith, the presiding judge, granted a defense motion to dismiss the charge against Roberts. According to a summary of that decision provided in the majority opinion of the Vermont Supreme Court, Kupersmith “determined that the year-and-a-day rule was still part of the common law of Vermont and that the death had occurred more than a year and a day after defendant’s act, and therefore dismissed the murder charge.”

    The prosecution then appealed that ruling.

    Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office is representing Roberts, said Wednesday that he is always “surprised” when the Vermont Supreme Court overturns hundreds of years of precedent.

    “It’s old, old common law that started back in England,” Valerio said of the year-and-a-day rule.

    The murder case will now go back to the trial court in Orleans County.

    Orleans County State’s Attorney Farzana Leyva, whose office is prosecuting Roberts, declined comment Wednesday, citing the active status of the case.

    Kupersmith, the judge who issued the ruling dismissing the charge, is no longer assigned to the case. Judge Rory Thibault, formerly Washington County state’s attorney, is now the judge presiding in the matter.

    Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont Supreme Court ruling reinstates murder charge against former Orleans County man .

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