Alleged gun thief held without bail

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BENNINGTON — A neighbor's security footage and two footprints led to the arrest of a Pownal man in connection with a home break-in and the theft of seven handguns Wednesday, police said.

The suspect, Zachary Russell, was found to have 130 bags of heroin at his residence, worth some $4,000, according to Vermont State Police.

Russell, 21, pleaded not guilty in Bennington criminal court on Thursday to single felony counts of burglary into an occupied dwelling and heroin possession.

Robert Plunkett, deputy state's attorney, asked Judge David A. Howard to hold Russell without bail because he was already on probation. Howard agreed to that request and also continued $15,000 bail set on the new charges.

Russell was convicted of felony unlawful restraint in April 2016; court records show he was given a one-to-three year suspended sentence.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Rubin, representing Russell during his arraignment, asked that Russell return to court on Feb. 7 for a hearing on the alleged probation violation.

A Little Brook Lane resident reported on Wednesday that his home had been broken into while he was not home. Trooper Raymond Witkowski, in an affidavit , wrote that seven handguns were reported stolen, worth an estimated $3,349. The home's main door and a door to a locked gun room showed signs of forced entry. A "distinct" boot print had been left in the snow next to the home.

A neighbor told troopers that their home's security cameras captured footage of a person walking around the scene that day: Four separate cameras showed a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, a dark colored vest and dark colored pants.

The homeowner and neighbor both said the individual strongly resembled Russell. Another boot print was found frozen in mud in front of his Chickadee Drive home.

When troopers located Russell at his residence, he was not wearing clothes that matched the suspect's, but he eventually admitted to having recently changed his shoes. Witkowski wrote that the tread pattern on Russell's logger-style boots matched prints found in snow near the crime scene and in the mud in front of Russell's home. Russell was found to own a green vest as well as a gray sweatshirt similar to that on the footage.

Russell agreed to let police search his bedroom. Police didn't locate any firearms. But they did recover seven bags of heroin marked with a "Hard Ball" stamp and a picture of a baseball player, as well as paraphernalia including three syringes.

Russell "stated that he did not take any guns," the affidavit states. Russell said he had been at another residence and, when he left, he walked past the home that had been broken into and up through the woods.

Russell was taken to the Shaftsbury barracks, where he eventually declined to speak further with police.

The heroin weighed 3.2 grams, which troopers said was enough to fill about 133 bags.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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