BENNINGTON — Authorities say a Bennington man found dead outside a downtown building last year died from a beating. Another local resident has been charged in his death — the county’s first known homicide case in 2020.
Joseph Cattani, 38, is facing a new criminal charge of manslaughter in the fatal beating of Christopher Sharby, 46, in September. That same month, Cattani was charged with aggravated assault against Sharby — when the state medical examiner had not yet determined if he died at the hand of another person.
Last month, the medical examiner ruled that this was indeed the case, according to a Bennington police statement obtained from the court. In her final autopsy report submitted Dec. 11, Dr. Elizabeth Bundock of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Sharby died after being struck in the head.
Sharby’s death certificate lists his cause of death as “subdural hematoma” due to “blunt force trauma of head.” This injury is a type of bleeding that occurs between the brain and skull. “Alcohol intoxication” is cited as the contributing factor.
According to the police affidavit, Bundock said Sharby’s death on Sept. 5 was caused by a combination of at least two incidents of blunt force trauma to his head. How the first occurred is unknown; the second is alleged to have been caused by Cattani the day before Sharby died. Bundock was quoted as providing the details below.
• Sharby’s older injury, which likely occurred three to four weeks before his death, caused bleeding between his brain and skull. The injury had “substantially healed” but “not resolved” by the time of his death.
• This injury would have increased Sharby’s risk for further bleeding with additional trauma. The second episode of subdural bleeding was much more recent and had enough volume to “compress the brain and impair its function.”
• The reported physical altercation on Sept. 4 “caused the recent subdural hemorrhage, brain injury and death.” Alcohol intoxication exacerbated the brain injury by causing further slowing of neurologic functions.
State department of health records — obtained through public records requests — show that Sharby’s death is the first homicide case in Bennington County for 2020.
NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES
Additional details surrounding Sharby’s death were made public through the filing of a new charge against Cattani on Wednesday. He appeared in Bennington Superior criminal court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. He also reiterated his not guilty plea to aggravated assault. Both are felony offenses punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett asked that Cattani be held without bail, citing the “increased severity” of his charges, his prior convictions in the state and a simple assault charge filed against him in October.
The court, however, granted the request of Cattani’s attorney to keep him free from jail on conditions. Judge Cortland Corsones said Cattani doesn’t pose a risk to public safety and has been following the court conditions imposed in September, including appearing for his hearings.
But the judge added new conditions, which included a curfew at a residence on County Street, where Cattani told the court he was staying.
Two days later, on Saturday evening, Bennington police said they arrested Cattani after receiving a report that he violated the curfew. An officer found him at a home on Burgess Road, where Cattani said he recently moved but couldn’t contact his attorney about the change in address.
But the owner of the County Street residence had told the officer that Cattani has not lived there “in a while,” according to a police affidavit that accompanied his new charges on Monday.
Cattani pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges: violating conditions of release and providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Afterwards, he was released on conditions. He is represented by attorney Dan Maguire.
BODY FOUND IN SEPTEMBER
Sharby had been found dead behind the building of the nonprofit organization Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services on Sept. 5. He had gone to sleep in that location at 121 Depot St. and didn’t wake up, according to court records.
An earlier police affidavit states Cattani admitted kicking Sharby in the thigh and punching him in the face/chin area on Sept. 4. Cattani reportedly said this happened after Sharby put his hands on Cattani’s girlfriend in an “obscene manner,” which upset him. The men reconciled after the fight, Cattani told the investigator in an interview Sept. 9.
A witness reported seeing Cattani kick Sharby in the leg, which caused him to fall, and punch Sharby about four times while he was on the ground. Cattani then struck Sharby with a backpack twice, the witness said.