ST. ALBANS — Norm McAllister attempted to justify his request to withdraw his no contest plea in a sexual assault case in Franklin County Superior Court Friday afternoon, claiming his attorneys pressured him to enter the plea, did not explain the consequences of doing so, and told him Vermont was a “woman’s state” giving deference to female rights under its laws.
One of McAllister’s former attorneys, Brooks McArthur, denied that claim. Judge Martin A. Maley scheduled a continuation of the hearing after more than two hours in court; McAllister’s other former attorney, David Williams, will speak at that hearing.
State prosecutor John Lavoie used court transcripts from the day McAllister entered his plea to identify occasions when McAllister stated he understood the specific consequences of his plea, was in right mind to enter the plea and was not being pressured or threatened into doing so.
It was the first time in the history of McAllister’s legal proceedings that he himself took the stand. He said he did not ask for his attorneys to solicit the plea agreement he entered the night prior to what would have been his second jury trial, this time facing charges of sexual assault and two counts of prohibited acts. Per his plea agreement, McAllister pled no contest to those prohibited acts as well as a reduced charge of lewd and lascivious conduct, reducing his maximum sentence from life to seven years.
He said the first time he heard the State had offered a plea agreement was the day before jury selection for his second trial.
“I didn’t understand why they had changed their position, because up to that day they said they had a lot of confidence in the case and their ability to defend me,” McAllister testified. “This seemed to be a huge switch from what they had been telling me.”
He called for his son, Heath, to be present during that three-hour conversation. “Basically, I’m alone in this world, and my son has been there for me,” McAllister said.
He said his attorneys were “kind of sarcastic” during that conversation. “What they told me was you’ve got to remember this is a woman’s state, and women have far more rights than men, and you’ve got to remember you’re up against something insurmountable from the start,” McAllister testified.
But still, McAllister said, he maintained his innocence. “Short of having them drop all charges, I was not interested” in any plea agreement, he said. “If they were going to drop all charges, I would have taken it.
“Truthfully, I’m not used to this sort of thing. I’ve never gone through anything near this… It’s confusing to me.”
McAllister testified he was confused by his attorneys’ sudden lack of faith in his defense — that the day the jury was selected, his attorneys began saying, “Juries are unpredictable, you can’t tell what’s going to happen, nobody has any for-sure thing. These laws are all geared toward protecting women… and the cards are stacked against you.”
He testified McArthur and Williams told him, “’If you don’t make this decision right now, then [the plea agreement] will be taken off the table.’ Then they started in on me telling me how stupid I was not to be listening, that only a retarded person would not be listening — and these were their exact words — to their counsel, that I was a grown man and I had to stand on my own two feet by myself. They actually had me in tears by that point. I don’t think I’m that soft a person, but I didn’t know what to do. Their refusal to get hold of my son was big in this.”
McArthur was not present in the courtroom during McAllister’s testimony. Lavoie confronted him with McAllister’s statements. Did McArthur remark that Vermont’s laws were “stacked against men?”
McArthur stifled disbelieving laughter. “Can you repeat the question?”
“Absolutely not,” McArthur said.
“Did you tell him he was stupid?”
What about that he was “a retarded person?”
“Absolutely not,” McArthur said, looking offended.
McArthur said he and Williams had expressed concern over the weight of the State’s evidence — specifically, conversations between McAllister and his alleged victims obtained via police wiretap immediately prior to his arrest — consistently throughout their time with McAllister, beginning with their acquisition of those recordings in fall 2015. McAllister hired McArthur and Williams the prior spring.
McAllister said he had heard those recordings four or five times, and that his attorneys accepted his explanations regarding his recorded statements. McArthur said he had played those recordings for McAllister three times the day before his jury draw alone, in an effort to get McAllister to understand the weight of the State’s evidence against him.
McArthur said he and Williams had in-depth conversations with McAllister about the consequences of his plea agreement — even that McAllister himself asked multiple “reasonable” questions throughout those conversations about the specifics of his sex offender registry and associated counseling.
McAllister insisted he had not been made aware of the consequences of his plea, particularly that he would have to admit guilt not in a court of law, but in the course of his psychosexual evaluation and subsequent counseling.
“What do you think an innocent man does in sex offender treatment?” Lavoie asked.
“I absolutely have no idea,” McAllister said.
“I mean unless you can admit you did something wrong there wouldn’t be much to talk about, right? And that’s kind of common sense, right?”
“I don’t know what the treatment involves.”
“Well what might they be treating with an innocent man?”
“Good question. I didn’t know what they were going to be treating.”
“Did you ask your lawyers that?”
“No, I don’t think I asked them that.”
Lavoie challenged McAllister’s assertion that he was unfamiliar with legal proceedings.
“How long you been in the legislature?” he asked.
McAllister said 12 or 13 years.
“You dealt with laws in your legislature?”
“We – yeah.”
“And you wrote some laws, right? Helped to write laws?”
“Helped to shape laws, yes.”
“Some of those laws were criminal laws.”
“I never helped to work on any of the criminal laws.”
Lavoie pointed out that McAllister still should have been intimately familiar with legal proceedings — since McAllister was the subject of one such proceeding in July 2016: his first trial.
“In the former trial, my lawyers had done exactly what they said they were going to do,” McAllister said. “In this one, because I had told them that I was not pleading guilty to something I had not done, nor would I ever, they chose to try to get some kind of a plea deal with me. I felt that they had turned on me and I didn’t know what to do.”
“So far the only people who have been able to put those things out there are you,” McAllister said, referring to State’s evidence such as the aforementioned recordings. “I want my opportunity to tell my side of the story.”
Lavoie pointed out that if McAllister withdrew his plea agreement, he could face up to life in prison instead of a maximum of seven years. McAllister said he understood.
Lavoie pointed out that McAllister’s former attorneys’ alleged statements regarding women and Vermont law were almost precisely comments made by McAllister himself in a Seven Days interview published in late 2015, in which he said the charges were brought by “vengeful,” “spiteful” women, that the gender is treated like “the Holy Grail” in this state, and that “there’s a presumption that you must have done something because you’re a man.”
“Those are words that came out of your mouth, right?”
“I don’t believe I said that. Did I?” McAllister asked.
Lavoie showed him the article. McAllister said nothing further on the issue.
McAllister’s son, Heath, may be called as a witness when the hearing continues. A date for its continuation has not been set.