Darren Pronto

Darren Pronto is believed to have committed a fatal slashing in Bennington in early 2021.

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BENNINGTON — A man charged with first-degree murder in the slashing death of Emily Hamann has been ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.

In a written decision that took nearly a month, Bennington Superior Judge Cortland Corsones on Tuesday ordered Darren Pronto, 33, to undergo the evaluation, by a doctor chosen by the state, to determine if he is competent to stand trial for murder.

Hamann was walking along the Riverwalk in downtown Bennington in January of last year when Pronto, lying in wait, allegedly jumped her and cut her throat.

The Vermont Legislature amended state law to enable a defendant to submit to a second “reasonable mental examination by a psychiatrist or other expert when a court-ordered examiner reports that a defendant is not competent to stand trial.”

Prosecutors asked the court to authorize another examination of Pronto to determine competency, citing the new law. In the written decision, Corsones sided with the prosecutor.

Corsones gave multiple reasons for his decision: that the original doctor supplied by the defense did not “sufficiently explain how or why he reached his decision; that the doctor did the evaluation over video instead of in-person, as is the standard; that he deviated from the norm in his testing; that he neglected to administer one of the necessary tests or failed to administer one; that he scored a test incorrectly; that in prior evaluations of the defendant from other cases, the doctor only looked at the one that stated the defendant wasn’t competent, and that a new evaluation, properly done, could yield a different conclusion.

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Fifth Amendment issues

Corsones ruled that a second evaluation would not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights. Pronto argued that compelling him to participate in the second evaluation would violate his privilege against self-incrimination. The judge countered that argument by stating the law. “No statement made in the course of the examination by the person examined shall be admitted as evidence in any criminal offense.”

Corsones also countered a defense argument that the second evaluation would violate Pronto’s 14th Amendment rights as “thin.” “The defendant argues that he has the right to be free of government action which ‘shocks the conscience or interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’ The defendant provides little argument about how ordering a second evaluation would ‘shock the conscience.’”

The judge goes on to state, “The court does not discern that there is any nefarious purpose to their request. The State’s motion for a mental health examination is granted.”

When reached by phone, Kelly Carroll, the victim’s mother, said, “I feel like we’re one step further to justice for Emily. I’m glad that the new law made a difference here. Even if he turns out to be not competent after this evaluation, at least our family will know that it was a credible test. I’m very grateful to [Bennington County State’s Attorney] Erica Marthage’s office for their diligence. I think it made a big difference.”

Pronto is being held without bail. Murder in the first degree carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.


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