BENNINGTON — A Holyoke, Mass., man, wanted in connection to a violent shootout in January 2022 in Pownal, turned himself in to authorities at the Bennington Superior Courthouse on Tuesday. Evidence in the case points to a possible link to a February 2022 murder of a young Massachusetts man in Danby.
Giovanni Torres, 21, turned himself in to Sheriff’s Department personnel around noontime Tuesday and was arraigned on a single count of attempted murder. Torres was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and briefly smiled at his family, including his emotional parents, as he sat at the defense table before pleading not guilty through his public defender, Frederick Bragdon.
The only argument presented came from Bragdon, who urged Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady to use the court’s discretion to release Torres into the custody of his awaiting extended family, sitting in the back of the courthouse in support.
“Your honor,” Bradgon said to the judge, “my client is under federal supervision for a pending case up in Burlington. There is no better deterrent for him than knowing the federal government will come after him if he does not comply with his conditions. Mr. Torres is currently fully employed in Massachusetts and has family members, as you can see here, who support him. He also turned himself in on this matter, your honor.”
State prosecutor Andrew Bevacqua countered that argument by noting the possible life sentence for the attempted murder offense. He also stated that Torres already has several pending drug cases still left unresolved, including here in Bennington and in Burlington, where he is facing federal drug trafficking charges and is currently released on supervised federal probation as he awaits the outcome on those charges. He then asked the judge to hold Torres without bail.
Possible danger to the public
McDonald-Cady, citing the safety concerns of the community, ordered Torres held without bail until a weight of evidence hearing can be scheduled sometime in early April.
“This court does not have confidence that releasing him would protect the public,” the judge said. “There is a great risk here.”
It was unclear if Bragdon would continue as Torres’ attorney in the case. The official public defender is listed as Jeff Rubin. When asked if he was filling in or going to continue with the case as a co-defense attorney, Bragdon was noncommittal.
“I’m not sure what will happen,” he said as he left the courtroom after the arraignment ended.
According to a Vermont State Police affidavit, troopers responded to 1342 Route 7 in Pownal for a report of a shooting with multiple rounds fired. Troopers arrived at the residence and found “significant damage,” including bullet strikes, several spent shells and numerous broken windows. A “ghost gun” firearm was found on the frozen ground outside.
Police located the leaseholders of the residence, who informed law enforcement that several individuals from Massachusetts, including Torres, were using the house to sell drugs. In exchange, they provided drugs to the leaseholders.
On the night of the shooting, one of the leaseholders noticed multiple vehicles pulling up the driveway of the home. Several individuals wearing masks and carrying guns came out of two cars. A shootout started between the individuals inside the house and those from the vehicles with AK-47s and 9 mm handguns. The leaseholder escaped from a side window as the bullets flew “all over the place.” Video surveillance at the scene shows the muzzle flashes coming from outside the residence. Four individuals can be seen exiting the home after the vehicles depart, one carrying an AK-47. Torres is allegedly seen in the video, holding a handgun with an extended magazine.
Connection to Isaiah Rodriguez case?
According to the affidavit and other sources, one of the individuals inside the house was Isaiah Rodriguez. Just shy of his 18th birthday, Rodriguez was found shot dead in the snow along a deserted road in Danby in early February 2022, days after the Pownal shootout. Sources confirm that authorities are looking at suspects in Rodriguez’s murder involved the night of the Pownal shooting. No arrest has been made so far in Rodriguez’s murder. Rodriguez can be seen on the surveillance video leaving the residence. It is unclear from the footage if Rodriguez has a firearm.
Torres has several pending charges against him, both in Vermont and at the federal level. He was stopped by Bennington Police last summer, and a handgun was found inside his waistband when he exited the vehicle. Police later found large quantities of narcotics inside the stopped vehicle after a search warrant was secured for the car. Pending charges in Bennington County include cocaine possession, carrying a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony, narcotics possession, possession of stolen property and giving false information to a law enforcement officer.
Torres faces up to 18 years if found guilty on the Vermont state charges. He faces federal drug trafficking charges in Burlington, which are still pending.
Torres was issued an arrest warrant on March 15 related to the Pownal shootout. He was on release from both state and federal charges when he turned himself in Tuesday afternoon. Torres awaits a weight of evidence hearing from a cell at Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland. He faces a possible life sentence with a presumed minimum of 20 years behind bars if convicted of attempted murder.