BENNINGTON — A young mother of a four-month-old infant turned herself in to police late Monday afternoon on an arrest warrant for attempted murder after allegedly taking part in a drug-related shootout in Pownal in January 2022.
Odalys Velez-Perez, 21, appeared via video link from the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland for her arraignment on one count of attempted murder, which carries a possible life sentence if convicted.
Velez-Perez’s mother and a close friend sat silently in the back of the courtroom as her defense attorney, Mark Furlan, challenged probable cause in the case.
“Your Honor, this is a gross overreach by the prosecution,” Furlan said. There is no evidence in the affidavit that comes close to saying she fired the gun and intended to harm anyone. They say she was one of the people in the house. They don’t actually identify her as firing a weapon ... let alone trying to murder someone.
“There must be evidence she fired that firearm,” he added. “There’s zero evidence she had anything to do with this shooting.”
Prosecutor Jared Bianchi fired back.
“The defendant is identified on video carrying a firearm out of the house right after the gunfight. Witnesses identified her as being inside the residence. There’s no gross overreach of anything. There’s more than enough for probable cause.”
Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady took a short recess before returning with her decision.
“At this point, there is a very low bar to establish probable cause,” McDonald-Cady said. “There are eyewitnesses that place her inside the apartment where the shots were fired at the people outside.”
Furlan interrupted, “That doesn’t establish that she had any intent to do anything other than possibly defend herself. There’s no evidence that she had the purpose or objective of shooting or killing another person. No one else, in fact, was shot at this incident.”
McDonald-Cady, sounding a bit impatient, explained what the court’s responsibilities were in regard to probable cause and whether Velez-Perez would be held without bail, as requested by Bianchi.
“The court can find probable cause that someone firing a firearm and other individuals who also are firing firearms can be found guilty. Intention is not necessarily demonstrated by direct evidence here. Most of the time, it is demonstrated by circumstantial evidence. And the court makes no distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence, meaning that all essential elements may be determined by circumstantial evidence. The court can infer the intent of the individual who shoots a firearm to unlawfully cause the death of another. ... The court denies the challenge of probable cause,” she said.
According to a Vermont State Police affidavit, troopers responded to 1342 Route 7 in Pownal in January 2022 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 them that several individuals from Massachusetts, including Velez-Perez, were using the house to sell drugs. In exchange, the individuals provided drugs to the leaseholders.
On the night of the shooting, one of the leaseholders noticed multiple vehicles pulling up the home’s driveway. Several individuals wearing masks and carrying guns came out of two cars and approached the residence. Individuals inside the apartment opened fire, and those from the vehicles fired back with AK-47s and 9 mm handguns. The leaseholder escaped from a side window as the bullets flew “all over the place.” Video surveillance shows the muzzle flashes coming from outside the residence. Four individuals, including Velez-Perez, can be seen exiting the home after the vehicles depart, one individual carrying an AK-47. Velez-Perez is allegedly seen in the video holding a handgun.
After a lengthy investigation, an arrest warrant was issued for three individuals, including Velez-Perez. Giovanni Torres, another individual named in an arrest warrant from the shooting, turned himself into authorities last week. Velez-Perez turned herself into sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse late Monday afternoon. The third individual, Luis Baez, is still wanted by police. A fourth individual seen on video coming out of the residence, Isaiah Rodriguez, was found dead in a snowbank several days after the shootout along a deserted stretch of Danby Mountain Road with multiple bullet wounds to the torso. He was 17 when he was murdered. Rodriguez’s murder is still officially unresolved. A source confirmed to the Banner last week that his murderer might have possible ties to the Pownal shootout.
A fifth suspect inside the apartment, John Pena-Baez, has not been charged. Bianchi hinted that could change in the coming weeks.
After the challenge to probable cause was defeated, Furlan pleaded not guilty on behalf of his client. Conditions of release were then discussed, with Furlan emphasizing his client’s surrender as evidence of her lack of flight risk and being the new mother of an infant. Bianchi countered by noting additional charges against Velez-Perez related to a drug bust in November 2021 on Gage Street in Bennington, and the seriousness of the charge, including the possible life sentence.
“I am not satisfied right now without hearing evidence that the public can be protected,” McDonald-Cady said. “Velez-Perez was one of four individuals shooting firearms at others. It appears very clear that it’s drug related. Given the concern here with drugs and firearms, equaling violence, that raises a significant risk to the public.”
McDonald-Cady then granted the State to hold without bail pending a weight of evidence hearing sometime in April.
“Honestly, she is a good person,” said Victor Velasquez, a Velez-Perez friend who came to the courthouse with the defendant’s mother to show support. “She’s not like that. I know her for over seven years. She’s not like that. She’s probably caught up with the wrong people at the wrong time. But she would never, I know that my heart, never kill nobody. This is killing me right now. She doesn’t deserve this. She really doesn’t.”
Velez-Perez’s mother declined to comment.
Velez-Perez was then escorted back to her cell as she awaits her weight of evidence hearing and the possibility of further charges being filed.