HIGHGATE — It seems Erika Guttilla won’t be speaking with her family until her case is resolved.
Guttilla is one of two defendants in the Highgate murder case, regarding the death of 35-year-old Troy Ford. Prosecutors charged Guttilla and her mother, Carmen, with first-degree murder, alleging they orchestrated Ford’s murder.
Guttilla’s attorney, Bob Katims, filed a motion in November asking the court to lift a condition prohibiting Guttilla from speaking to her family members.
The court imposed the condition immediately after Guttilla’s arraignment on the murder charge, and a charge of obstructing justice, in May 2018.
At that time, the prosecution argued Guttilla shouldn’t speak with her family because of their potential involvement with the case as witnesses, though none, save for Carmen, are charged with any criminal behavior.
Court affidavits filed by Vermont State Police detectives include statements from Guttilla’s siblings, who described Ford as sexually, physically and emotionally assaultive. According to the affidavit, neither sibling expressed knowledge of either Guttilla killing Ford.
Her brother, Dakota, said Ford struck Guttilla with a Hennessy bottle the last time Dakota saw Ford. He told VSP detectives if Guttilla did kill Ford, “it was because [Ford] pushed her, and everyone else, to the edge.”
Dakota also told police he didn’t hear any gunshots in the house, but that he spends much of his time inside playing video games with a headset and is a heavy sleeper.
The affidavit does not include any remarks from Guttilla’s father.
Both Guttilla and Carmen are incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, under court orders not to speak with each other.
But Katims, in his motion to the court, noted that’s because Carmen is a co-defendant. The rest of Guttilla’s family is not.
“Defendant is suffering psychologically from her inability to have any contact with family members,” Katims wrote, in the motion, adding that Guttilla’s defense wouldn’t object to a condition of release prohibiting her from discussing the facts of the case with her family members beyond Carmen.
Deputy State’s Attorneys John Lavoie and Ashley Harriman did not file a written response, and the court did not issue a written ruling, but denied the motion in a quick hearing early Friday morning.
The case’s attorneys filed a joint discovery schedule in September, outlining and committing to a timeline moving the case to trial.
According to that timeline, we’re just months away from that trial. The stipulated discovery schedule says attorneys will be trial-ready by May 1.
The court arraigned Guttilla on the charges on May 8, 2018, putting the potential trial almost exactly two years after the case’s beginning.
That discovery schedule says the defense discloses its witnesses, including any expert witnesses, by Feb. 1, and that attorneys complete all the case’s depositions by April 1.
Katims is contracted by the state defender general’s Serious Felony Unit, attorneys with experience defending individuals charged with serious felonies, like first-degree murder, which is punishable by a life sentence.
Meanwhile, St. Johnsbury-based defense attorney David Sleigh represents Carmen, whose case appears to be nearing resolution without a trial.
Sleigh and the case’s prosecutors — again, Lavoie and Harriman — haven’t filed a change of plea agreement, but said during recent court hearings they were working toward it and hoped to have a concrete agreement soon.
The court has scheduled its next status conference in Carmen’s case for Jan. 28.
Corey Cassani also accepted a plea agreement for his peripheral involvement in the case.
Cassani was in a romantic relationship with Guttilla not long after the alleged time of the murder. The court sentenced him to the legal maximum, three to seven years in prison, for acting as an accessory after the fact to the murder — as well as for three violations of court orders when Cassani repeatedly contacted Guttilla while in prison, following their joint May 2018 arrests.
Cassani helped move Ford’s remains from the Guttilla family’s Highgate home to an abandoned playground just up the road.
Ford’s remains allegedly sat in a recycling bin on the Guttilla family’s porch for months before Cassani and, allegedly, Guttilla and Carmen, moved the remains to the wooded area where dog-walkers discovered the remains in May 2018.
“Helping to throw away someone’s body violates every standard of human decency I would expect,” Judge Greg Rainville said during Cassani’s sentencing.
“He was a human being. And that body represented a human being.”