ST. ALBANS — Prosecutors’ case against Ethan Gratton is moving swiftly toward a late March trial after a status conference here Tuesday afternoon.
When Judge Greg Rainville began presiding over Franklin County’s criminal court again in September, he told attorneys on both sides of the case he would push the case toward the soonest possible trial date. Despite the relatively recent appointment of Kelly Green as Gratton’s new defense attorney, Rainville seems to be accomplishing that goal.
Prosecutors have charged Gratton with second-degree and attempted second-degree murder in connection with a shooting on Georgia Mountain Road in January 2017. There seems significant evidence that Gratton shot local loggers David Hill and Mark Brito, killing Hill and leaving Brito with permanent impairments — specifically a recorded 911 call from Gratton’s mother, in which Gratton said he shot them.
It seems likely Green’s defense will depend on questioning what precipitated the shooting. Gratton sustained physical injuries prior to the shooting, like a tooth snapped clear back against the roof of his mouth, a black eye and a possible concussion.
Green replaced Steve Dunham and Rosie Chase, the local public defenders who had legally represented Gratton since his arrest. The court had scheduled Gratton for trial this past June, but Judge Martin Maley, who was presiding over the criminal court at the time, postponed the trial after receiving a last-minute letter from Gratton requesting new counsel. Gratton wrote he had doubts about Dunham’s representation.
Green has experience with serious felony cases. She represented Jody Herring, the woman convicted of slaying four in Barre, including a Vermont Dept. of Children and Families social worker. Green also represented Jack Sawyer, the Fair Haven high school student accused of planning a school shooting.
Green initially told Rainville she was hoping for a June trial. She said that would give her time to sort through the case’s ten boxes of files and to conduct her own depositions, while juggling her other statewide trial obligations.
Rainville was sympathetic, but still sternly pushed for a sooner trial. He urged Green and the case’s prosecutor, State’s Attorney Jim Hughes, to meet and outline a concrete pre-trial schedule, hoping that might clarify the exact amount of time needed.
It seemed to work. In court yesterday, Green and Hughes agreed they could be ready for trial come March. Hughes said Green sent him a list of the defense’s evidentiary needs, information gathering Hughes said he plans to set in motion in December. Otherwise, he said, the State is ready to go.
Green said she has “different ideas” about Gratton’s legal defense than Dunham’s team had developed, “but it’s all in the same ball park,” meaning there’s only so much work left to be done.
Rainville tried to push for jury selection in the beginning of March, avoiding its first week due to Town Meeting Day. Green appreciated that. She said she serves as her town’s moderator.
Hughes said he plans to make the State’s case over four-and-a-half to five days. Rainville suggested beginning those days on March 13, but Green said one of her key witnesses is unavailable from then until March 20.
So Rainville suggested March 21.
“I’m really reluctant to get into April,” he said.
Neither attorney protested, tentatively setting the trial’s start date for March 21 or 22.
The attorneys promised a detailed discovery schedule by November’s end.
Rainville asked Green if she planned to file motions in limine, motions arguing to exclude certain pieces of evidence from trial. “Almost definitely,” she replied.
Rainville said the court will schedule the case’s next status conference for mid-December.
Gratton, 27, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of either charge. He is currently under 24-hour curfew at his parents’ residence.
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