Friday January 6, 2012

BENNINGTON -- The following are some of the court cases that made headlines this past year:

* After pleading guilty to embezzlement in December 2010, a warrant was issued in March for the arrest of Steve LaLonde, 49, who failed to show up for a sentencing hearing in which he would not likely have served jail time. LaLonde is a former Mount Anthony Union High School football coach and was accused of embezzling over $1,000 from the team by taking money players gave for sweatshirts. Police said they believe he fled to Canada, where he is a citizen.

* Former Vermont State Police Trooper Timothy Newton resigned from his position with the agency in April after being charge in February with hitting his girlfriend after a Super Bowl party. Newton was assigned to the Shaftsbury barracks. The charge was prosecuted in Bennington by a deputy state's attorney from Windham County, who ultimately dismissed the charge. The girlfriend denied being hit, and the charge was largely based of physical evidence at the scene and statements made by a small child who allegedly witnessed the incident.

* Peter Campbell-Copp, 62, of Manchester, was charged and pleaded not guilty to 14 counts related to defrauding aspiring authors in July. According to police affidavits, Campbell-Copp would accept sums between $7,000 and $10,000 from people wanting him to edit, layout, and publish their books. The alleged victims, from all over the state, claim Campbell-Copp never delivered on his obligations, and police have said it appears Campbell-Copp was running something similar to a Ponzi scheme. The case is still pending.

* A former New York firefighter was sentenced to serve between 25 years and the rest of his life in prison after a jury convicted him of two counts of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl at his North Bennington home. Rusty Brooks, 36, was acquitted on a third count of sexual assault. He was sentenced in September.

* In October, Joseph McElheny, of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., was acquitted by a Troy, N.Y. jury of several charges relating to the death of his 4-month-old child. McElheny's charges were more serious and the jury was hung on one count related to child endangerment.

* In November Dawnette Greene, 37, of Whittingham, was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison for embezzling $65,000 from the Readsboro American Legion. Greene was the live-in caretaker of the Legion's disabled treasurer, and forged his signature on a number of checks. The case was moved to federal court in 2010, while Greene's state-level charges related to allegedly stealing from the treasurer's personal funds were dropped.

* After an intensive, two week trial in late November an Arlington man was found not guilty by a jury of causing the death of his 5-week-old son. The manslaughter trial of Russ. C. Van Vleck was one of the longest in recent memory for Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division and relied heavily on the use of expert testimony.

* In December, Ralph Brown Jr., 43, a former fire policeman, pleaded guilty to second degree arson. Police said he had set his Maple Street house on fire in an effort to collect insurance money that would pay to have a medical procedure done on his wife to allow her to have more children. Stacy Brown, Ralph Brown's wife, was also charged, as was Joseph Thomas, Stacy Brown's boyfriend, both of whom lived with Ralph Brown at the home. Both accepted plea agreements that do not involve jail time, while Ralph brown was given between one and five years. The fire occurred in February 2010. Firefighters suspected arson after the second time they were called to the home in as many days.

* Jeffrey A. LaFlamme, 39, pleaded guilty in December to an amended count of manslaughter for stabbing Joseph Roderigue, 45, of Bennington to death in a Pownal apartment in 2010. Police said Roderigue had been in an argument with LaFlamme through text messages and forced his way into the home, then began fighting with LaFlamme. Also charge as an accessory was Shannon Green, 40, whose case is still pending. LaFlamme was sentenced to serve between four and 12 years.

* Jon Goodrich, founder of Mace Inc., which operates a storage facility in Bennington, agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and be on probation for up to five years, for pleading guilty to improper storage of hazardous waste. The case itself began in 2008 when federal investigators said the company was storing barrels of toxic chemicals improperly in a floodplain. Goodrich's agreement has yet to be accepted by a federal district court judge.