Monday July 22, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A Massachusetts woman who was convicted Wednesday of assaulting her girlfriend then crashing her car while driving from the scene drunk was released from custody the next day because the judge found the time she has served since being held in May was enough.

Traci K. Oliver, 28, was charged on May 6 with first-degree aggravated domestic assault, obstructing justice, driving under the influence of alcohol, gross negligent vehicle operation, and reckless endangerment. After a day-long trial, a jury found her guilty of a lesser misdemeanor domestic assault charge, DUI, and gross negligent vehicle operation. It acquitted her of the reckless endangerment charge, which stemmed from allegation that Oliver threw a frying pan during the incident which nearly hit a person. The obstruction of justice charge was dismissed by the court before it could be considered by the jury.

According to State Police, on May 5 troopers were called to a home in Pownal where a fight between two women had been reported. Police photographed red marks on the complaining witness’ arms and neck. She said she had an argument with Oliver, who put her in a headlock and strangled her. Oliver then left in her car, crashed it, then returned, but left again before police arrived. Police arrested Oliver when she came back to the home, and while being left alone to write her statement she crossed out the statement the victim had written. This caused the state to charge her with obstructing justice.

Oliver’s attorney, Jeff Rubin, said his client crossing the statement out was a mistake. She had been handed a packet with the statement inside it and the instructions troopers gave her were confusing.

The state had played a video recording of Oliver’s interview where she crossed the statement out. When troopers asked her why she did it she said it was because she did not make the statements.

Judge Cortland Corsones dismissed the charge, saying it was clear that a simple mistake had been made.

In his closing arguments, Deputy State’s Attorney Alexander Burke said two people who witnessed the fight between Oliver and the victim corroborated the victim’s version of events. He said police also testified that Oliver was likely intoxicated when she spoke to them and when she had driven the car.

Rubin told the jury in his closing statements that witnesses had testified to the complaining witness being on top of Oliver during the fight, which would indicate his client had not been the aggressor and if there was and attacking her part it was to defend herself. Rubin also argued that given the testimony of witnesses and police, it was not likely that a frying pan could have been thrown from the living room to the kitchen given the layout of the house.

Burke said Oliver had strangled the victim from behind and pulled her backward, hence her being under the victim despite being the one carrying on the assault. He said police did not observe injuries on Oliver, but did on the victim

Oliver has been held without bail since May because her only ties to the state were to the person she assaulted. Corsones said Thursday at a sentencing hearing that given her limited criminal history and the effect jail seems to have had on her, the time she has served was enough of a sentence.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.