Judge sets Butler murder trial schedule
Judge David Howard approved a trial schedule following a status conference in the case Friday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division.
Butler, 32, has been held since being arraigned in March on charges of first degree murder and burglary of an occupied dwelling armed with a dangerous weapon in the death of 81-year-old Helen Jones.
Her body was found Jan. 4 in her 440 Buck Hill Road home in Arlington, where she lived alone.
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage said Friday that the prosecution had received an updated stipulation order as to the case discovery issues. "Some of the dates, I just don't know that I agree with, but I leave that to your honor," she said, referring to dates by which pretrial motions are due and depositions of witnesses must be completed.
"I don't want to appear to be difficult for what the defense needs for dates," she said, "but I feel like this has been pending, and that these dates are kind of far out."
Marthage noted that the proposed schedule allowed until June 30, 2018, for completion of depositions, and until mid-July 2018 for the filing of pretrial motions to dismiss charges or suppress aspects of the state's case.
The order filed with the court Monday by the judge showed revisions to earlier dates in June for depositions and in July or the filing of the pretrial motions.
Defense attorney Brian Marsicovetere, with the Serious Felony Unit of the Office of the Defender General, participated in the status conference by telephone and Butler did not appear.
"I think from our experience dealing with homicide cases, it is a very reasonable timeline for trying to get the case ready for trial," Marsicovetere said. "Basically, six months from now to compete depositions of all the witnesses, and also factoring in potential forensic issues, depending on what happens with the DNA testing; I don't know; it seems like a reasonable timeframe."
Dates specified in the order signed Monday include Dec. 31 for the state to provide documentary discovery items; March 1, 2018, for disclosure of defense information and for submission of a list of defense witnesses; April 1, for disclosure of expert witnesses for the defense; April 30, for the state to disclose case information; June 10, for the completion of depositions; July 1, for defense motions to dismiss or suppress; and July 31, for motions in limine.
According to the schedule, the case should to be ready for trial by August. The trial is estimated to run for eight days.
The charges against Butler carry a maximum prison term of 35 years to life. He was arrested on March 8 and denied the charges during his arraignment two days later.
The stabbing death touched off an intense investigation, with detectives from the Major Crime Unit of Vermont State Police and other VSP personnel from around the state participating. As many as 20 officers were involved in the investigation at any given time, police said.
Major Glenn Hall, commander of the Criminal Division of VSP, said after Butler's arraignment that the Sunderland man, who had previously done work for Jones at her home, was interviewed by police on Jan. 6 and later was repeatedly asked to submit a DNA sample.
The investigators focused more on Butler after receiving an anonymous tip on Feb. 25 that Butler told someone that he had killed an elderly woman and was afraid that "DNA would prove him guilty."
Hall said in March that detectives "worked tirelessly on this case," which became the "Number one priority of the Vermont State Police."
The case "was an example of how difficult this type of investigation can be," Hall said, referring to a lack of witnesses and because the victim lived alone and her death was not immediately discovered.
Attorneys in the case said in late March that a large amount of investigative material was being compiled digitally, resulting in some delays in the discover process.
Police said Jones was found on her back in the ground level hallway of her home with multiple stab wounds to her torso and her right hand. They said entry to the home apparently was gained after a window in the main door was broken.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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