ST. ALBANS — Days before he was scheduled for a pre-trial conference and less than two weeks before the formal jury drawing in his case, Steven Fairbanks changed his mind, and his plea.
However, it was the statement issued Tuesday by his victim that appeared to have the largest impact in court, and perhaps in the case itself.
Accepting a plea deal, Fairbanks, 28, pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon, for which he will serve eight to 15 years, and aggravated domestic assault with serious bodily injury, for which he will serve zero to 15 years consecutively.
His overall sentence is proposed to be eight to 15 years to serve, with credit for time served since Oct. 20, 2011.
Dismissed by the state in the agreement were counts of first-degree attempted murder, child cruelty, and interference with access to emergency services.
For months his attorneys, public defenders Steve Dunham and Rory Malone, have battled Deputy State’s Attorneys Deb Celis and John Lavoie over depositions, allegations of improper conduct and knowledge deemed privileged by the defense.
Fairbanks, meanwhile was held under arrest.
The fateful day of the crimes has been painted in court documents and discussions as the culmination of a series of bad acts.
Police logs showed that Avonlea Perretta, 19, at the time, previously had called authorities for help. Officers had seen photos of her black eyes, bruises, and burn marks allegedly inflicted with cigarettes.
On Oct. 6, 2011, police investigated a domestic disturbance at her 64 Lincoln Ave. home.
The early morning of Oct. 20, 2011 was a blur of blue police lights for onlookers, many in the area knowing only that a domestic assault had occurred at that same address.
When Fairbanks was arraigned Oct. 26, 2011, after days at Fletcher Allen Healthcare following surgeries and police standing guard, the whole story – according to police – came out.
It was alleged that on Oct. 19, 2011, Fairbanks slept on the couch at the couple’s home after the two argued. He left for work at 6:30 a.m. then returned home, Celis said yesterday, allegedly to get lunch items he had forgotten.
Then between 7:58 a.m. and 8:32 a.m. five 911 calls were placed from the home. Court records do not say who placed them.
As Celis said yesterday, that morning, Perretta was in bed with the couple’s six-month-old son when Fairbanks re-entered the home and grabbed a kitchen knife. The two argued in the bedroom, and Perretta took out her phone to call police.
Celis said Fairbanks kicked the phone from Perretta’s hand, at the same time kicking the woman in the face.
Perretta then thought Fairbanks was punching her, Celis said, but really he was stabbing her, which he did seven times before turning the knife on himself.
An affidavit from the incident claimed, “Fairbanks stated he had his tractor on his trailer and that he was going to take her body to St. Albans Bay and get rid of it and nobody would ever find her.”
Celis noted yesterday that as she was being stabbed, Perretta shielded her baby. She was able to get away and was eventually taken for medical treatment.
After initial treatment at Northwestern Medical Center Perretta was taken to the intensive care unit at Fletcher Allen Health Care with life-threatening injuries. She stayed on the same hospital floor as her attacker for the duration of his stay and after.
“She was very nearly dead, judge, as a result of that stabbing,” Celis told the court.
Celis also claimed bad acts were present throughout the couple’s two-year relationship, including choking, a crime to which Fairbanks admitted yesterday when he also pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic assault with serious bodily injury resulting.
Arguments and legal debates have tangled the case for nearly two years. There were claims from the defense that the state received medical records it never should have seen, that Fairbanks was held “in communicato” for five days because St. Albans Police officers sat with him at FAHC as a safety precaution, that phone calls made from prison should not have been obtained by the state, though the state maintained there is no expectation of privacy behind bars.
Most recently the medical records have been in the forefront. Just last Friday the parties argued about whether the state should be allowed to see them.
At that point Judge James Crucitti noted that the likely defense for Fairbanks’ case – diminished capacity or insanity – opened the door for his medical history to be discussed.
“He has put his mental health in issue, in litigation,” Crucitti said then.
Fairbanks has admitted to having a drug abuse history.
The affidavit of the 2011 attack states that Fairbanks blacked out that morning and had poor recollection of the events.
Perretta shared her side yesterday, for the first time in court. She had prepared a victim impact statement. Her victim’s advocate, Wendy Boyce, read it.
In her statement Perretta blamed herself and drugs, not the man sitting across the court aisle from her, the one who authorities claim nearly took her life.
“I feel like no one really listens or understands me,” she wrote.
After the incident, Perretta wrote, “I realized all the petty arguments Steven and myself got into really weren’t worth it. I pushed buttons I knew I could. I pushed buttons knowing it was wrong and what would result of it. I was in love.”
Perretta claimed she knew what she was doing when she entered into a relationship with Fairbanks and said the couple’s child was a motivator for both of them to see that Fairbanks kicked his drug habit.
Drugs, she wrote, “blur your vision; make you think different, change your judgments.
“But one thing drugs had no impact on was Steven’s ability to be there as a father,” she added.
He didn’t always help with expenses, but Perretta said addiction makes someone need other things.
“But every night he would take (their son, whose name has been withheld by the Messenger) after work and feed him, clothe him, play with him. Never did drugs in front of (him). He was a good dad. Yes this day he made a mistake, life is all about mistakes,” she continued.
Perretta wrote, “The day of the attack, I saw Steven’s face. I saw his facials and his actions. This doesn’t make an individual a monster, it showed he had enough, it wasn’t done showing hatred; it showed that there was pain and suffering on the inside.”
She said that what Fairbanks did was “not okay,” but added “as the victim, I forgive. We cannot live everyday with hatred and pain. If it wasn’t for this he would have never cleaned up.”
She added that it is important for her son to have his father present. She said she knows the pain her son will endure without him.
“I never thought he would come after us,” she said of Fairbanks. “I never and (my son) will never think of Steven as a monster. We see a mistake, a way he got the help he needed. An opportunity to change his life around.”
While those who are familiar with the case were reluctant to speak about Perretta’s statement, advocates for domestic violence victims interviewed for a Messenger 2011 series of articles on the topic told the newspaper that abused partners often blame themselves and some feel helpless to leave their abuser.
In an interview published on Oct. 31, 2011, Kris Lukens, director of women’s support service and shelter Voices Against Violence, said red flags for potential abusers, often realized too late, include their partner’s past criminal behavior, inappropriate anger, personal background and upbringing, treatment of animals, and an inability to show full support. Also, she added, it is important to know that batterers often are smooth talkers.
Fairbanks has a prior domestic assault conviction stemming from a 2004 incident with a different partner.
Perretta’s sentiments, however, would seem to disagree with a blanket assessment of her situation, instead it turned to an outside influence.
“My scars are healed, my mind is focused and this just shows one of the main problems we have these days. DRUGS,” she wrote.
However, Perretta noted in her statement that she is confused; claiming she is worried about her family who she said doesn’t have to agree or understand.
“If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have went back to school, bettered our life, I want people to realize this did not stop my life, it pushed me forward. I suffered injuries then, but nothing now. But faded scars and lessons. Life is full of lessons.”
Yesterday Perretta included in her statement the things she wanted from Fairbanks. She wanted him to be the father their son needs, to stay off of drugs.
She wanted him to serve only two to five years, to then be released on house arrest or furlough.
“Every time he put his hands on me before was from me saying things nagging him and threatening him and every time he did pills,” she wrote. “He can prove everyone wrong.”
When it was his turn to speak, Fairbanks said he took full responsibility for his actions. He wanted to let Perretta know that, from the bottom of his heart, he was sorry for the 2011 attack and past verbal and emotional abuse.
“You didn’t deserve that,” he said, “nobody does.”
He also said he wanted to be a good father to his son.
Crucitti told Fairbanks to keep Perretta’s statement, to take it out sometimes to read it. He told him to get clean while he was in jail and to stay that way when he got out.
Given the two offenses to which he was pleading, Crucitti said, “You could easily go to jail for a major portion of your life.”
It was Perretta’s strong character, as shown in her words expressed yesterday and her forgiveness, that helped those involved, said the judge.
“I think she saved both of you,” Crucitti said.
The judge said a lot of weight in his decision to accept the plea deal was given to Perretta’s statement.
The letter, he said, made him think of what a famous author once said: “The best thing a father can do for his children is respect their mother.”
Fairbanks, he said, had not done that.