BENNINGTON — A Pownal man has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal slashing of a woman in Bennington on Monday.
The state has accused Darren Pronto, 32, of committing the crime “by lying in wait and intentionally killing Emily Hamann with a knife.” He pleaded not guilty at Bennington Superior criminal court on Tuesday.
First-degree murder carries a penalty of 35 years to life in prison or life without the possibility of parole.
Superior Judge Cortland Corsones ordered Pronto held without bail until a bail hearing can be held, granting the request of Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage. The prosecutor’s arguments included the maximum penalty Pronto is facing and the state’s belief at this point that “evidence of guilt is great.”
Pronto, who was represented by the county public defender’s office, phoned into the remote hearing while detained at the Bennington Police Department. His attorney, Fred Bragdon, asked for a bail hearing at a later date so they could have more time to gather information.
Pronto was booked at Southern State Correctional Facility, in Springfield, around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Vermont Department of Correction’s inmate locator online.
The relationship between Pronto and Hamann is unclear, as well as the motive for the alleged slashing. When asked about these, BPD Chief Paul Doucette’s only response was that the investigation remains active.
PUBLIC, DAYTIME INCIDENT
Pronto was arrested the previous day, not long after a witness to the daytime assault called police and described the attacker, according to court documents. The assault reportedly happened around 11:15 a.m. Monday along the Walloomsac River walkway, between North and School streets.
Authorities have described the victim, Hamann, as a 26-year-old Bennington resident. Police said they found her lying on the ground, just off of the walkway, with a deep cut in her throat. She had just come from a nearby pharmacy, carrying a purse and a prescription bag.
She apparently died just several minutes after the attack. She was declared dead 11:24 a.m. at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, where she was taken for treatment, according to a sworn statement by BPD Sgt. Jason Burnham.
Burnham’s affidavit, obtained from the court, said that a home security camera recorded the attack. After Hamann went past Pronto on the walkway, the investigator said the video showed Pronto tackling Hamann to the ground and staying on top of her for about 1-1/2 minutes.
“During this assault Hamann can be seen kicking at Pronto who is seen getting up walking east bound towards School Street,” Burnham wrote. “Pronto looks back towards Hamann, then puts something into his right pants pocket, believed to be the black folding knife.”
Police said they found Pronto heading north on School Street and arrested him after a brief struggle. They found a knife in his right pocket, which appeared to have blood, said BPD Officer Benjamin Lackey in a supplemental affidavit.
Police said Pronto’s clothes were taken as evidence, including tan cargo shorts that contained reddish brown stains around the right front pocket. Burnham said Pronto declined to speak with him after being read his Miranda rights.
Before Pronto was arrested, Lackey said he spoke with the defendant. He described Pronto’s demeanor as “consistent with a person that had gone through a high stress situation,” citing a shaky voice, not making logical sense and not able to stand still.
The officer also described Pronto’s language as rambling. He quoted Pronto as saying unintelligible things about Hamann, such as “she disruptive his evidence as a loyal and disruptive personality and reasonable call.”
When Lackey said they’d gotten a call about an assault, Pronto reportedly replied: “Yup, like I said she was. A couple of years ago. Probably a year and a half ago.” Later, Pronto supposedly said “he did his share, assaulted her.”
The officer said Pronto referred to the victim as “Emily Grace,” which were her first and middle names.
Burnham said Pronto’s sister told him he was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. And that over the weekend, he’d carved out the phrase “Murder Time” into a wall of his mother’s home.
After getting a search warrant, Burnham said police found the words etched on the residence’s dining room wall.
Bragdon, Pronto’s attorney, told the Banner after the hearing Tuesday that the 35-year minimum sentence for first-degree murder may be reduced to no less than 15 years if a jury finds that mitigating factors in a case outweigh the aggravating factors.
Hamann’s death is the first reported homicide of 2021 in the town of Bennington as well as the county. A Bennington homicide case from last year is pending in court, whereas no suspect has been announced in a killing that was discovered in Searsburg in 2019.