ST. ALBANS — The man who admitted assaulting Chris Davis on the night of March 21, 2012, prior to Davis’s death, was given a reduced sentence Wednesday in Franklin County Superior Court.
Brian Ross, 25, of St. Albans, admitted to assaulting and robbing Davis in July 2013 and was sentenced to eight to 15 years by Judge James Crucitti.
Davis, 22, of Swanton was found dead in the St. Albans City municipal pool on April 16, 2012 wearing the same clothes he was wearing the night of the assault. The unmarried father of a young child was not seen alive again after that March night.
While Ross and another man, Travis Bugbee, 25, of St. Albans, admitted to assaulting Ross, they denied killing him or any knowledge of how Davis had ended up in the pool.
When Ross pled guilty to the assault, the state agreed eight to 15 years would be the maximum sentence, and that is what Crucitti handed down. However, the defense felt Crucitti had erred by connecting the assault to Davis’s ultimate death and appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which overturned the sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing. The court’s ruling escaped media attention until now.
Before issuing a new sentence Maley heard from Davis’s mother, Jen Chevalier, and from Ross.
“It deeply saddens me to stand in front of you and fight for my son again,” Chevalier told the court.
Ross admitted to knowing Davis was intoxicated at the time of the assault. “He knew Chris was intoxicated and that made him vulnerable,” Chevalier said.
According to information provided to police by Ross and Bugbee, Davis had dropped his cell phone and Ross attacked him when he bent over to pick it up, a scene Chevalier described for the court.
Davis begged for Ross to stop, but Ross did not, Chevalier said.
“When Brian Ross was done assaulting and robbing my son, he left him lying on the ground,” said Chevalier.
She described for the court her observations of Ross laughing and joking with friends and family in the hallway outside the courtroom before and after court hearings. “Not once has he shown remorse,” said Chevalier. “Not once has he ever hung his head in shame.
“He has no feeling of guilt. It was all a big joke for him,” she stated.
Chevalier has seen the bruises left on her son’s body by the beating. “What worth is it to beat up someone who has caused no harm to you?” she asked the court. “Perhaps it does not bother him to cause harm to other people.”
In Vermont, the maximum sentence for assault and robbery with injury resulting is 20 years. “In my eyes, this would not be enough,” said Chevalier.
While Chevalier spoke, Ross’s father, Brian Ross, Sr., accused her of lying and had to be silenced by officers from the St. Albans Police Dept. (SAPD) who were in the court to maintain order. During his initial sentencing in 2013, friends and family of Ross had to be forcibly removed from the court by the SAPD.
Lavoie echoed Chevalier’s comments, reminding the judge that a vulnerable individual was “beaten down, robbed, left with nothing including his cell phone, the only means he may have had to call for help.”
Eight to 15 years, he argued is a “middling sentence” which reflects Ross’s lack of previous criminal history. “The crime the defendant committed deserves every minute of that punishment,” said Lavoie.
Bugbee intervened to lessen the severity of the assault and has shown true remorse, said Lavoie, who argued Ross has not shown remorse. “His actions since are consistent with his actions of that day,” said Lavoie.
Bugbee was sentenced to five to 10 years by Crucitti and did not appeal his sentence.
Defense attorney Bob Katims said that if there was defensiveness in Ross’s interactions with law enforcement rather than remorse it’s because he was repeatedly questioned by police in connection with a homicide investigation. While he admits beating Davis, Ross has always maintained that he is innocent of causing Ross’s death, said Katims. “It’s hard to accept responsibility when you’re blamed for something you didn’t do,” he said.
According to court documents, Ross was first questioned about Davis by SAPD on April 18, 2012 about Davis, he told officers he had seen Ross the previous Friday, April 13, walking on Lincoln Avenue. Davis was already dead.
“Ross indicated that he may have seen Davis approximately one week ago in an unknown vehicle…” police reported. He also denied having gotten into a fight with Davis, telling police “random people” were spreading rumors.
It took multiple interviews with multiple witnesses — all of whom seemed to change their version of events at least once — and warrants for phone taps, before detectives were able to get a clearer picture of what happened that night.
In determining a new sentence, Katims told Maley, “You have to look at Mr. Ross.”
Ross had no prior criminal convictions, and has both an offer of a full-time job and stable housing. “That job is there for him the day he gets out of jail,” said Katims.
Prior to his initial sentence, Ross was on 24-hour curfew for 14 months, with no violations. “He went to work and he went home,” said Katims. “Nothing about his past or his conduct suggests jail time is warranted.”
Ross, Katims told the court, is “Someone you’re not going to see again.”
Ross himself said, “It’s a horrible thing I did. I wake up every day thinking about it.”
“I’m not a violent man,” he said. “I’m very sorry for what I’ve done. I accept responsibility, and I deserve to be punished.”
After taking a short recess, Maley returned to the court to render his decision.
Maley began by expressing sympathy for Davis’s family. He went on to say, “The state’s request for eight to 15 under these circumstances is not reasonable.”
He outlined the factors he considered in reaching his sentence.
Rehabilitation, Maley concluded, was not a main focus. Nor was deterrence.
“He says that he is contrite. … No one can know that for sure other than Mr. Ross himself,” said Maley. “One would hope that he is and that he understands the magnitude of his actions.”
Those actions, said Maley, “merit significant punishment.”
Mitigating factors Maley considered include Ross’s youth, the absence of a prior record and his having abided by conditions of release prior to the previous sentencing, as well as a fairly steady employment history.
Those factors were offset by the seriousness of the crime, in particular his abandonment of an injured and intoxicated Davis. “That’s a depraved crime,” said Maley. “That takes a certain lack of sensitivity and a coldness that is hard to calculate.”
The pre-sentencing investigation, which is not a public document, described Ross during the investigation as “not forthcoming” and “more self-serving than anything else,” said Maley.
The three-year minimum gives Ross credit for the 11 months he has already served and still allows time for him to enter a cognitive self-change or similar program while in prison, said Maley. The 10-year maximum is intended keep him under the supervision of the state once he is released.
Following sentencing, Ross’s mother burst in to tears, crying out,” I love you, Bri.”
Davis’s mother and family quickly left the courtroom.