ST. ALBANS — A status conference Thursday afternoon in the State’s case against Ethan Gratton began with a pointed observation from Judge Greg Rainville: this case will be two years and one month old come Sunday.
But the case is finally speeding toward resolution, speeding as fast as court cases can, anyway.
The case remains on track for a late March trial, chiefly thanks to Rainville’s pushing.
Judges rotate between courtrooms, i.e. civil and criminal, and courthouses, for example Franklin County or Grand Isle, annually.
Rainville presided over the criminal court here when Gratton was arraigned on second degree and attempted second degree murder charges in Jan. 2017. Rainville then rotated out, to the civil court on the other side of Taylor Park, only to return, in Sept. 2018, to find the case in relative disarray.
Gratton’s defense team was up in the air. Gratton had sent a letter to Judge Martin Maley, who presided over the criminal court here between Rainville’s stints, on the evening before his scheduled trial in June 2018.
In the letter, Gratton listed doubts about his legal representation, an attorney from the public defenders office, and requested an attorney from the state’s Serious Felony Unit, defense attorneys practiced in serious felony cases like the charges Gratton faces, charges for which a judge could sentence him to life.
Shortly after Rainville rotated back into the criminal court last September, Gratton’s attorneys stepped down, replaced by Kelly Green, no stranger to serious felony charges. Green recently represented Jody Herring, the Barre woman convicted of murdering a social worker and three relatives, as well as Jack Sawyer, the young Fair Haven man accused of plotting a school shooting.
Since then, Green has built off the work of Gratton’s prior attorneys and caught up on a case file that she said fills 10 boxes.
Rainville has held Green and the case’s prosecutor, Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes, to monthly status conferences, ensuring the case stays on schedule and moves as quickly as possible.
The next step in the case is jury selection. During Thursday’s status conference, Rainville told the attorneys a jury pool of 260 people are coming to the courthouse in late March, days before the trial’s tentative start date of March 21.
Those potential jurors received a supplemental questionnaire approved by the case’s attorneys, meant to weed out less qualified jurors ahead of what could be two days of jury selection.
Rainville said he plans to review those questionnaires, then meet with the attorneys, on the record, Feb. 22 to discuss those questionnaire results.
The case’s discovery — basically, evidence-gathering — process isn’t quite complete. Green said she still has one or two depositions to conduct, one of a medical examiner, another of a Vermont state trooper who responded to the crime scene.
She also told Rainville she plans to utilize the testimony of a firearm expert and a blood spatter analyst, one who analyzes bloodstains at crime scenes.
“Just imagine how they get experience in that one,” Rainville mused.
The case’s depositions have to be completed by Feb. 28.
Only Hughes, and, of course, Rainville, were physically present in the courtroom yesterday. Green spoke via speakerphone, and Gratton did not attend.
Gratton has been at his parents’ home under 24-hour curfew since April 2017.
The case’s charges allege that Gratton murdered David Hill, a local logger, and attempted to murder Hill’s co-worker, Mark Brito, in a shooting on Georgia Mountain Road Jan. 2, 2017.
The shooting reportedly followed an argument that revolved around the loggers turning a skid-steer around in the Gratton family driveway.
Prior to the shooting, Gratton sustained facial injuries including a black eye and a tooth snapped in half.
Other details of the altercation remain publicly unknown, except that Gratton did fatally shoot Hill and critically wound Brito.
At the heart of the case is not the question of whether Gratton shot the men, but the legal question of his intent in doing so, whether he possessed the faculties to knowingly and intentionally murder or attempt to murder the case’s victims following the as-yet-unexplored physical altercation immediately prior to the shooting.