KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- A man who accidentally shot and killed his best friend Thanksgiving morning three years ago was ordered Friday to pay $20 per month to the Vermont Restitution Unit, to which he owes more than $8,000.
Nicholas D. Bell, 26, of Manchester, was released from jail in June after serving a year in a Newport facility. Last year he pleaded no contest to manslaughter, simple assault with a weapon, and reckless endangerment. In addition to the jail time he was given a seven-year deferred sentence on the manslaughter charge. Police said on Thanksgiving Day 2010 Bell called 911 and reported that he had shot his friend, Jeffrey Charbonneau, 24, in the chest with a gun. Police said the weapon was a .22 caliber rifle.
Police said at the time they thought Bell had mistaken the weapon for a BB gun and sought to wake Charbonneau up with it as a prank. A person familiar with the case said that as more evidence was collected, it appeared that Bell was instead examining the gun and accidentally fired it in Charbonneau’s direction.
After he pleaded no contest, Bell agreed to pay $8,711 to the Vermont Restitution Unit. In Vermont, the victims of crimes where restitution has been ordered can collect funds from the unit up front, which the Charbonneau family did in order to cover expenses related to Jeffrey Charbonneau’s death. Bell must now repay the unit, which can increase the $20 amount if and when Bell’s income rises and will know what he is making when he files an income tax return. Bell said he wants to pay back the money for both legal and moral reasons.
Before he was released from prison, his attorney, Thaddeus Lorentz, filed a motion saying his client would have no ability to pay because he was incarcerated.
Lorentz requested that Bennington Superior Court Judge Cortland Corsones not require Bell to begin making payments to the unit for a year, which would give him time to grow his video production business. Bell testified that he has worked on two projects since being released, one filming skateboard videos for a family, the other a wedding. He said he has received $3,000 from the skate video project but has yet to be paid for the wedding work. He said he had to borrow $4,000 from family members to get the needed equipment for the business. Bell said he lives with his family in Manchester, has not been asked to pay rent to them, and was not employed within the jail.
Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett said the money Bell has received from his family should qualify as income. Lorentz disputed this, saying how much a person’s relatives have in funds is not a factor in determining how much that person can afford to pay.
The Charbonneau family has filed a wrongful death claim against Bell in Vermont Superior Court Civil Division.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.