BENNINGTON -- A woman who has been in state custody since 1991, after police said she killed her boss and shot two co-workers, thinks she should be set free, while prosecutors and the Department of Mental Health are arguing about which facility she will be living in.
After all-day hearing Friday in Windham Family Court, Judge John Wesley said attorneys have until Sept. 12 to make any post-filings in the case of Elizabeth Teague, 52, a New Jersey native who once worked at the former Eveready battery factory -- now Energizer -- in Bennington.
Police said that in October 1991 Teague, then 30, shot and killed her supervisor, John Perryman, then shot and wounded co-workers Patricia Masi and Thomas Fuhr, before trying to burn down the building with homemade incendiary devices. She fled and was apprehended in New Hampshire near the Canadian border.
She was found incompetent to stand trial and for many years resided at the Vermont State Hospital, which was the state's primary mental health facility for acute inpatient care, until it was flooded out in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene. It was recently replaced by a smaller facility in Berlin.
For the past two years Teague has been at the Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health and addiction treatment center on Anna Marsh Lane in Brattleboro.
The Vermont Department of Mental Health wants to move Teague to the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, located on Route 2 in Middlesex next to a Vermont State Police barracks.
"We hope the judge will decide that Ms.
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage is opposing this, arguing that the Middlesex facility is not secure enough for the danger Teague presents.
On Friday, two doctors employed by the Brattleboro Retreated who have treated Teague testified in support of their recommendation of the move, while Deborah Olivetti, a social worker and program director at the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, spoke to security and supervision. Teague also testified briefly, denying that she allegedly assaulted someone with a cord while at the State Hospital.
Normally, mental health hearings in Family Court are confidential, but Marthage said she filed and was granted a motion to open this to the public, as she felt the community had a right to be aware of it.
Dr. Joseph Smith testified that he treated Teague for about a year starting in April 2013. He said she suffers from schizophrenia, paranoia type, holds false beliefs, and experiences auditory hallucinations. Her mental illness factors heavily into the crimes she allegedly committed, and even if she were to take the medications prescribed to her she would likely always exhibit symptoms at varying degrees.
Smith said he has been to the Middlesex facility and seen what it has to offer. Right now, Teague lives on the fourth floor of the Brattleboro Retreat where she must pass through at least two locked doors before getting outside. She is allowed more freedom than a "yellow" level patient, as she has never been physically violent, nor has she made an attempt to "elope."
"Elope," was used interchangeably with "escape" by prosecutors, despite some minor dispute over its use.
Smith said fourth-floor residents can move about on their own, but their access to objects is restricted. He said Teague is relatively high-functioning in terms of being able to care for herself, compared to other patients. He said this may be making it hard for her to form connections with people and could be affecting her willingness to be treated.
The Middlesex facility is as secure as the Brattleboro Retreat, said Smith, only residents are allowed more freedom within. It does not qualify as a "hospital" like the Brattleboro facility does, where activities are centered more around medication management. Because Teague refuses to be involved with the hospital aspect of things, her needs can just as easily be met in Middlesex and the move would free up already scarce mental health resources.
Dr. Geoffrey Sinner, who has been treating Teague for four months, agreed with the recommendation. Marthage asked him about reports he had filed indicating Teague needed a hospital setting, then about reports saying she could be moved to Middlesex. She asked him who told him to change the wording of the report.
Sinner said no one told him to change his recommendation. At the time of his initial reports Teague had not wanted to go to Middlesex, so he thought it would not be a possibility.
Teague, after visiting the Middlesex grounds, became more amicable to the idea, and the more Sinner learned about the program the more he agreed with Smith.
Both Smith and Sinner said they were not recommending Teague be let off supervision, only that the move might offer her some benefit.
Marthage brought up a number of reports made about Teague, which indicated she got into an intense verbal confrontation with another patient, has threatened public officials to the point where the Secret Service monitors her movements -- and in some cases forbids them -- held a fork in a potentially threatening manner, and was in possession of a book about how locks work.
When Teague testified, she denied making any threats, doing anything suspicious with a fork, and said the other patient had lunged at her and had to be restrained by staff.
During the hearing, Teague attempted to speak a number of times but was repeatedly reminded by Wesley that her statements had to go through her attorney, Jack McCullough.
Olivetti said the Middlesex program houses six people -- seven until recently. Patients can be monitored one-on-one at all times if need be, and depending on their behavior can be checked in intervals. They have access to common areas, a kitchen, and a garden. Sometimes, if their behavior warrants it, they are taken out of the facility on short trips under supervision.
She was questioned about a small number of "elopements," most of which involved people walking off while on trips, the longest being into the following evening.
Only one person, a young, physically fit male has escaped the facility itself by jumping the fence. They were quickly returned by nearby police.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.