ST. ALBANS — Two men charged with assault and robbery and unlawful mischief relating to the 2012 death of Christopher Muir Davis, 22, of Swanton were sentenced in Franklin County District Court today.
Judge James R. Crucitti sentenced Brian Ross, 24, of St. Albans to a full eight to 15 years for his involvement in the March 21, 2012 incident. Travis Bugbee, 24, was sentenced to five to 12 years with a zero to three-year sentence concurrent for a lesser charge. Bugbee’s charge was less than the 15 year maximum the state looked for, partly, Crucitti said, because the evidence found showed Bugbee didn’t play a direct role in the physical assault.
On May 20, Bugbee pleaded guilty to assault and robbery with injury resulting and unlawful mischief, relating to Muir Davis’ death. Ross, on June 18, also pleaded guilty to assault and robbery charges.
In June 2012, police arrested five individuals as a result of an investigation into Muir Davis’ death. His body was located in the St. Albans City public swimming pool about a month after the incident occurred, wearing the same clothes seen in March 21 surveillance footage.
Police alleged Bugbee and Ross lured Muir Davis to the pool area before he went missing on March 21, and remained missing until his body was recovered in April 2012.
According to the police affidavit, Ross beat Muir Davis unconscious. Police accounts said Bugbee stated that they were “supposed to teach Muir Davis a lesson.” Bugbee allegedly stepped in to stop the altercation after Ross had punched Muir Davis two or three times.
In addition to beating the man, the two men allegedly broke his cell phone and stole pills, a wallet and marijuana. Police believed Muir Davis was unconscious by the time Bugbee and Ross left the scene.
Police also said the two allegedly sold Muir Davis’ food stamps card and drugs to Joshua Fortine, 30, who was sentenced in April 2013 to two to five years in prison for buying/receiving/selling/concealing/possessing stolen property and obstruction of justice.
Fortine admitted to his crimes in January 2013.
Today in court, Ross’ attorney, Bob Katims, said he and his client will appeal Ross’ sentence to the Vermont Supreme Court. He said the district court did not present any evidence suggesting Ross’ assault was the cause of Muir Davis’ death.
“There’s no connection with the death of Mr. Davis and this assault,” Katims said during his client’s hearing. “
After both hearings, Katims called Crucitti’s decision an “illegal sentence.”
It is unknown at the time if Bugbee and his attorney, John St. Francis, will appeal his sentence.
Crucitti said the court is looking at the situation as the men left Muir Davis without an ability to get help after suffering his injuries. He said the court sees a “distinct connection” between the assault and robbery and Muir Davis’ death.
Before Ross and Bugbee were sentenced separately, Muir Davis’ mother, Jennifer Chevalier, asked the court to charge both men with the full sentences. She stressed the fact that the two men took and destroyed her son’s cell phone, preventing him from calling for help.
During the sentence hearings, both Katims and St. Francis said the two taking Muir Davis’ cell phone was related to the robbery portion of the charges they pleaded guilty to, not an attempt to prevent the victim from reaching out for help.
Before the sentences were handed out, Chevalier said the punishments that would be given to Bugbee in Ross would be “nothing compared to what I’ve endured.”
Chevalier said Bugbee and Ross just left her son, “laying on the ground like a discarded piece of trash.”
“Anybody who does this has no respect for other people,” she said.
Both Katims and St. Francis consistently stated that their clients had no previous criminal histories and were troubled young men who both felt remorse for their actions.
St. Francis said Bugbee, who suffered from drug problems, would benefit more by continuing his rehabilitation and addiction counseling he started when he was charged with the crimes. He said one way or another, Bugbee will be back in the community, and would be better served getting help from counseling rather than incarceration.
Bugbee’s mother, Catherine Tufts, was called to the witness stand. She testified on her son’s behalf, saying he helped take care of her with her disability, especially after her husband died in July 2012.
Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie agreed with the defense that Bugbee played a lesser part in the physical assault of Muir Davis. Lavoie alluded to Ross and Bugbee as the “brawn and brains” of the assault and robbery.
Crucitti said he took that into account when determining Bugbee’s sentence, as well as Bugbee’s evident attempt to stop Ross’ attack after Muir Davis was knocked unconscious.