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 2008 News Articles: January-May (12 articles)

Read More News More news: Oct 8-14 2006 | Oct 15-21 | Oct 22-Dec 31 | Jan-Sep 2007 | Oct-Dec | Jan-May 2008 | Index

Trial To Begin In Gardner-Quinn Slaying
WPTZ Channel 5 Plattsburgh
May 12, 2008

Accused killer Brian Rooney goes on trial in Rutland District Court Tuesday in what has become one of the region's mostly highly publicized murder cases in recent memory, the rape and killing of University of Vermont senior Michelle Gardner-Quinn in October 2006.

Jurors will be chosen in the trial of 37-year-old Rooney, who has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in the death of Gardner-Quinn.

Wptz.com and NewsChannel 5 will be following the trial closely and have compiled a visual and written account of the event leading up to the trial. Check back in here and on NewsChannel 5 for daily trial updates.

Recent Legal Proceedings

On April 30, a judge denied a request by Brian Rooney's attorney, David Sleigh, to be taken off the case. The judge said there is no reason he should be allowed to quit.

He said, "Nothing convinces me that Mr. Sleigh should be relieved of his responsibility in this case."

Sleigh had written, "There has been an irrevocable breach of the attorney/client relationship which adversely impacts my ability to advocate in his best interests."

Rooney had told the judge in court at the beginning of April, "I feel from the beginning, obviously I've been railroaded by the system." He also said, "I haven't had a chance to review everything for trial. I feel that the matter is being rushed." Judge Michael Kupersmith said he believes both sides are ready for trial.

Michelle Gardner-Quinn's Disappearance

Gardner-Quinn's parents reported her missing Oct. 7, 2006. Police said the 21-year-old was supposed to meet them for lunch that afternoon, and when she didn't show up, they knew it just wasn't like her.

It was parents weekend at UVM and her parents were visiting from Virginia. She had just transferred to UVM that semester.

Police originally said Gardner-Quinn left Church Street early Saturday morning to meet up with friends at an apartment near the Ski Rack on Main Street. She never reached the apartment.

Missing persons posters plastered the campus in the days following, as police and friends scoured the area for any sign of Gardner-Quinn.

The Vermont National Guard and 50 investigators from the FBI joined the search.

On Oct. 13, almost exactly a week after Michelle Gardner-Quinn was last seen, hikers found her body in the town of Richmond near the Huntington Gorge.

That night and in the days following, family and friends held vigils and memorials for the UVM student, mourning her loss.

Brian Rooney

Burlington police said they learned of a man named Brian Rooney within four hours of their investigation, through cell phone records.

Rooney was then a 36-year-old construction worker from Richmond and the father of three daughters.

Police said they questioned Rooney at his parents' home in Richmond the next night and decided to put him on surveillance the day after.

On Oct. 12th, four days after Gardner-Quinn disappeared, police released a surveillance photo taken outside a jewelry store in Burlington. It showed Gardner-Quinn walking up Main Street with a man officials later confirmed to be Rooney. Police said he let her borrow his cell phone.

That Friday, when police announced hikers had found the college senior's body, they said they had arrested Rooney on unrelated sexual assault charges.

According to police, at one point in the investigation, Rooney had told investigators, "I really don't know what happened. Honestly, I don't remember that night ... If I did this, I deserve to die."

Investigators also said Rooney told them he was too drunk to remember what had happened that night.

After his arrest, a close friend spoke out on his behalf, saying, "I've never been given any reason to suspect anything other than he's a great person and he would help anyone out if he could."

His parents also spoke out in his defense, saying, "As a parent, we love our son to death and we can't imagine anything happening or him doing anything to anybody."

But Rooney's former father-in-law spoke out, saying he was "the scum of the earth."

Almost two weeks after Gardner-Quinn vanished, The Associated Press reported that a DNA blood sample taken from Rooney's jeans matched the blood of the slain UVM student.

The Life of Michelle Gardner-Quinn

Gardner-Quinn is being remembered for her strong environmental ethic and her commitment to making a difference on the issue of climate change.

Several days before her death, the 21-year-old wrote an essay called "This I Believe" and submitted it to her environmental studies class.

Gardner-Quinn started the essay saying, "I believe in upholding reverence for all life. I believe that humanity has a responsibility to the earth and to the life that we share our experience with."

A filmmaker got wind of the essay and persuaded prominent actresses, musicians, even royalty to bring it to the screen.

The film debuted at the Live Earth concert in New York City in July. It received more than 32,000 views on YouTube.

Click here to watch the video.

In memory of Gardner-Quinn, is also an organization called Michelle's Earth Foundation.

Its mission is "to facilitate the role of the community, especially youth, girls, and minorities who are vastly under represented in the sciences, in community-level efforts towards creating a healthy, sustainable habitat for humans and nature."

There is also an online memorial to Gardner-Quinn with pictures, video and memories.

It features the full text of a poem about the 21-year-old, describing her as the most concerned citizen, kindest friend, most engaging classmate and most cheerful co-worker.

Music Honors Michelle Gardner Quinn
April 17, 2008
Bianca Slota - WCAX News

Winooski, Vermont - Music has long been thought to have healing powers, and at the Monkey House in Winooski on Thursday night, groups of musicians are hoping to heal a wound left in the Burlington community when a 21-year-old UVM student was raped and murdered.

Bridget Burns is one of the few people who actually got to know Michelle Gardner Quinn during her short time at UVM. She says she got tired of hearing her friend's name associated with the negativity of her death.

"As apposed to always thinking about the Michelle Gardner Quinn murder perhaps they'll think about all the good environmental work that's being done in her memory," Burns said.

Burns is also the owner of Wyld Stallions Records, so she got four female-fronted bands together to play a benefit show for the Michelle Earth Foundation. The non-profit was created to continue Gardner Quinn's work on environmental conservation.

"Playing music is a fun thing to do and if it helps raise money for this why not?" said performer, Maryse Smither.

Like most of the people in Vermont, those at the fundraiser never knew Gardner Quinn but her death left a lasting impression on them.

"The fact that it's Vermont and that kind of thing rarely happens here and I was horrified, you know, having gone to UVM myself that just really shook me," said attendee Megan Everts.

But as Burns hoped, the talk of the night was less about death and more about music, friends and of course preserving the environment. "I think that she's looking down on us and smiling. I think that she's behind it all the way."

Musicians Come Together for Michelle Gardner-Quinn Fundraiser
Greg Navarro, FOX 44 News - Burlington-Plattsburgh-Montréal
Posted: April 17, 2008 08:13 PM EDT

With music like this, it was hard to find a reason not to head to the Monkey House in Winooski, Vermont tonight.

"it's only 3 dollars which is less than the cost of a beer,"

said Bridget Burns from Wyld Horse Records.

The concert, organized by Wyld Horse Records, had a purpose and a cause; to raise money for Michelle's Earth Foundation named after Michelle Gardner Quinn.

The UVM student was abducted, raped and murdered in 2006.

"One of the most unfortunate things about Michelle's death is that not a lot of people outside the UVM community," said Burns

Her foundation focuses on environmental causes, including community sustainability and environmental education programs for schools.

The night featured Burlington's best female rockers, including Steph Clark, Marie Claire, and The Leaves fronted by Aya Inoue.

All of the money raised here goes to Michelle's foundation.

"I''m hoping by raising awareness on this organization and the causes that were important to her will give people a better glimpse into her character," said Burns

All of the money raised through the event will go to the foundation.

Party for the Planet
April 17, 2008
By Sarah Long, Burlington Free Press

In memory of Michelle

Local performers Steph Clark, Marie Claire, Maryse Smith and The Leaves, led by Aya Inoue, will play a benefit concert hosted by Burlington record label Wyld Stallions April 17 at the Monkey House in Winooski. Door profits and 100 percent of all money raised from a raffle will go to Michelle's Earth Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in memory of slain University of Vermont student Michelle Gardner-Quinn. The foundation promotes involvement in sustainable environmental awareness and protection projects. Admission is $3 for those 21 and over and $8 for ages 18-20. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the music starts at 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact The Monkey House at 655-4563 or visit www.monkeybarmusic.com.

Mud Season celebration

ECHO continues its two-week celebration of Earth Day and Mud Season with daily events and activities, ecology booths, Vermont musicians and free chocolate ice cream at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center on the Burlington waterfront. Listen to Muddy Music at One (at 1 p.m. daily), produced by kid-friendly Re-Bop Records of Marshfied, featuring Gary Dulabaum (April 17), PossumHaw (April 18 and 23), Jon Gailmor (April 19), Lewis Franco (April 20), Colin McCaffrey & The Re-Bops (April 21), Jim Branca (April 22), May Fly (April 24), Pam McCann & Company (April 25), Patti Casey (April 26) and Tammy Fletcher (April 27). 877-ECHOFUN, www.echovermont.org.

Drum for the Earth

Middlebury's Earth Day Fair, to be held from 1-3 p.m. April 20 on the Middlebury Green, will feature drumming, music, local food, a seed and plant exchange, exhibits, and children's procession and activities. In case of rain, the event will be held in the St. Stephen's basement. 388-9478, lasermily@yahoo.com.

The next day, Middlebury College will sponsor an Earth Day concert featuring tenor and folk musician Geoff Kaufman from 5:30-7 p.m. April 21 in the Concert Hall at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. 443-3168, upson@middlebury.edu.

Bee Green

City Market will celebrate Earth Day with a screening of "Health and the Hive: A Beekeeper's Journey," from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. April 20 in the City Market Conference Room in Burlington. The film considers the current state of the bees and suggests approaches to beekeeping and agriculture that would improve the outlook for bees and the humans who rely on them. Sign up at the Customer Service Desk.

Drive clean

Two dozen alternative fuel vehicles will be on display from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. April 22 on the Church Street Marketplace as part of the Clean Car (and more) Show. Presented by the Alliance for Climate Action, 10% Challenge Program. 863-1648.

Join the big wet world

Pretty & Nice and In Memory of Pluto will perform at 10 p.m. April 26 at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center on the Burlington waterfront as part of Big Heavy World's "WET! A Party Underwater." A digital media crew will record and upload party-goers' positions on environmental policy, water pollution, alternative energy and other topics to YouTube and deliver them to Sen. Patrick Leahy to share with fellow policy-makers. $4 in advance at Pure Pop, Big Heavy World/The Radiator and Radio Bean; $6 at the door. 865-1140, www.bigheavyworld.com.

Wyld Stallions Records Presents: A Michelle's Earth Foundation Benefit with The Leaves, Maryse Smith, Marie Claire, Steph Clark
Thursday, April 17, 8PM at The Monkey House in Winooski. $3
Seven Days Vermont NOW (Notes on the Weekend)
April 17, 2008 | Issue No. 67

Staff Picks
Bridget Burns (Office Manager) recommends:
Michelle's Earth Foundation Benefit, in honor of Michelle Gardner-Quinn, with The Leaves, Marsye Smith and Marie Claire. Bridget was a friend of Michelle's, and is organizing the benefit. "Michelle was always saying that small actions translate into big change," says Bridget. "I'm hoping that our small benefit might create big change in how the community associates her name. Instead of her murder, let's focus on the incredible environmental work being done in her memory." Thursday, April 17, Monkey House, Winooski, 8 p.m. $3.

Hi! Fidelity
Soundbites: Revision, Monoprix?
By Dan Bolles, Seven Days Vermont

To some the independent record store is a Mecca of hard-to-find sonic delights; to others it’s an intimidating fortress of hipster elitism. Either way, it holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of discerning music fans. Though the proliferation of online outlets both legitimate (iTunes, Amazon.com) and questionable (P2P sites, Bittorent files, etc.) has been blamed for the decline of the music industry in general, many independent retailers have subsisted by expanding upon the niches they serve in their respective communities. Though Nero plays his fiddle — or perhaps, “Guitar Hero” — while empires such as Virgin Megastore burn, many smaller stores have managed to fend off cyber-fueled extinction.

One such destination is Burlington’s Pure Pop Records. The store is a local landmark, beloved by generations of Vermont audiophiles. This weekend, the iconic basement boutique is joining like-minded indie emporia across the country by participating in National Record Store Day. A made-up holiday of sorts, the event was created to recognize the vital role that stores such as Pure Pop serve. The impending celebration has attracted a fair amount of attention from national media outlets and big-deal artists such as Paul McCartney, who claims, “There’s nothing as glamorous to me as a record store.” Right. Anyone else think Sir McCartney maybe hasn’t set foot in an indie record store in a while? And no, Paul, Starbucks doesn’t count.

This Saturday, Pure Pop offers prodigal music consumers the chance to reconnect with their stacks-digging roots by offering loads of free stuff — CDs, DVDs, posters, disapproving glances for purchasing the latest Jordin Sparks album, etc. There are also whispers of a few special live performances from some choice local acts, though as of press time the lineup was unconfirmed.

But the coup de grace is a used-CD-buy-back promotion. Essentially, shoppers can bring in their old albums and sell them to Pure Pop for up to 50 percent more than the typical buy-back rates. You can then use the cash to sift through the discarded gems from other folks’ collections in what portends to be a feeding frenzy of Filene’s Basement proportions. Hipsters are typically a docile group. But when an original pressing of Daryl Hall’s prog-rock opus Sacred Songs is on the line, all bets are off. If you think I’m kidding, swing by the store this weekend and see for yourself.


A couple of weeks ago, I alluded to an upcoming press conference announcing the lineup for this year’s installment of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. In the weeks leading up to the main event, you’ll find loads of info about the fest in these pages, so I won’t divulge too much now. I will, however, offer up a few choice highlights that caught my attention.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival and, in honor of this milestone, organizers are pulling out all the stops. The 2008 headliners include legends such as Ornette Coleman and Dave Brubeck as well as up-and-coming acts such as r&b diva Ledisi and Afro-jazz guitar ingénue Lionel Loueke.

The Waterfront Tent will be a-hoppin’ as always with Jamaican reggae legend Eek-A-Mouse, who apparently invented turntable scratching . . . just kidding. I seem to get into trouble when I credit Jamaican reggae stars with inventing anything, so I’ll hold my tongue — except to say that Mr. Mouse is generally considered one of the godfathers of dancehall. Let the angry letters begin!

Of course, the entire city will be positively pulsing with world-class music for those glorious 10 days in late May and early June. But even though we’re barely midway through April, it’s never a bad idea to plan ahead. Tickets for all shows are on sale now at www.discoverjazz.com.


This just in: Local psychedelic indie-rock outfit My Dearest Darling are putting the finishing touches on a long-awaited debut record. In the build-up to the big event, the band has a couple of noteworthy gigs this week that local fans ought to put on their Google calendars.

On Wednesday, April 16, the band graces the hallowed halls of academia with a visit to local music showcase “Exposure” on UVM’s free-form radio station WRUV — that’s 90.1 on your FM dial, if you still have a radio, or http://www.uvm.edu/~wruv for the interweb set. The broadcast starts at 7 p.m. sharp.

The following Tuesday, April 22, you can catch them live and in person at Higher Ground’s Showcase Lounge — the band returns to the venue for its first performance since a recent opening slot for The Fiery Furnaces. This time around they’re warming up for Washington, D.C.’s heavy psychedelic-rock revivalists Dead Meadow. Consider me, um, “psyched.”


Speaking of new albums, here’s an interesting tidbit that crossed my desk recently. Ithaca-based funk-rock trio Revision have been touring the country in their veggie-oil-powered van, averaging about 100 shows per year. What’s interesting about a touring jam, er, funk-rock band, you ask? Well, nothing, really. But stick with me . . .

This Thursday the band is playing a “CD” release party at Nectar’s for their new record Amplification. I’m using quotes here because the CD isn’t really a CD. Rather, the album is available on a 1-GB USB drive in an effort to cut down on waste. Plus, once you’ve loaded the album and accompanying bonus material onto your computer, you’ll have a free USB drive. Nifty, no?

I’m not familiar with Revision’s music, but they claim to blend “the instrumentation of Soulive” with the “songwriting savvy of Wilco.” To which I say: no comment.

However, if you buy the album and don’t like it, you could sell it to Pure Pop this Saturday and pick up that Daryl Hall prog disc. Just a thought.


Monoprix sightings have been somewhat rare of late, which is a bummer for the band’s rabid “swampy-tonk” fan base. Fortunately, this Monday the band is reconvening at Red Square in celebration of noted front man/honky-tonk hero Brett Hughes’ 21st birthday.

OK, I lied. In truth, Brett is a bit beyond drinking age. But anyone who plays as often and with as much charm and enthusiasm as the estimable Mr. Hughes is young at heart, regardless of what the calendar says. Yee-haw, indeed.


The impending trial of UVM senior Michelle Gardner-Quinn’s alleged murderer Brian Rooney will no doubt dominate headlines in the coming months. As the tragic circumstances surrounding her death re-enter our collective consciousness, it will be more important than ever to remember the positive impact Gardner-Quinn had in her all-too-brief existence.

With that in mind, local do-gooder Wyld Stallions Records is presenting a concert to benefit Michelle’s Earth Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to carrying out environmental work in her memory. This Thursday, The Monkey House plays host to some of the area’s finest female songwriters, including Steph Clark, Marie Claire, Maryse Smith and Aya Inoue’s latest project, The Leaves.

Taking Security into Their Own Hands
April 15, 2008
Brian Joyce - WCAX News

Burlington, Vermont - Taking security into their own hands... but are UVM students going too far to feel safe on campus? The murder of a UVM student a year a half ago has prompted some students to pack protective devices that could get them expelled.

Some UVM students have decided that carrying mace or a taser as personal protection outweighs the risk of being expelled. One of them agreed to speak with us on-camera.

"I own a stun gun. It doesn't shoot out, it's direct contact. Not a taser," she explained.

The UVM student spoke with us with her identity concealed because she owns a stun gun that temporarily paralyzes with high voltage and excruciating pain. Carrying a stun gun or other self-defense items like pepper spray on campus could get her expelled because it violates the UVM weapons policy.

But she says she has good reason to own one.

"A good friend of mine got it for me after what happened last year with Michelle Gardner-Quinn."

Michelle Gardner-Quinn was a UVM student who was kidnapped right off a Burlington street and later found raped and murdered 12 miles away.

Our student stun gun owner doesn't want that to happen to her.

"I'm using it for my own safety and to me that's more important than anything."

Reporter Brian Joyce asked: "Worth expulsion?"

"Well if it came to my life, I would rather be expelled then to not be here today," she answered.

"The university's position is that weapons or likely facsimiles thereof, are not allowed on campus," said UVM Police Chief Gary Margolis.

Margolis says the UVM ban on tasers and mace pepper spray makes sense because the greatest threat comes from the devices themselves-- not attacks by a stranger.

"I'd go back to the discussion we have to have with men and women about where are violence-against-women crimes most likely to occur and how do we educate our population about those crimes, versus this belief that simply carrying a weapon of some sort is going to be the best defense," said Margolis.

We spoke with several UVM students to get their opinion.

"I think tasers are a little extreme. I've never been in a situation, I don't know anyone that's ever been in that situation. I think they've really cracked down on security on campus with the blue lights," said Ashley Whitelock.

"I don't really agree with that policy. I think that women on campus should be allowed to at least carry mace in their purse," said Kristin Bagley.

"I'm a 5'2" girl, if I feel it's appropriate to carry pepper spray with me then I think I will," said Lindsy Massuda.

Stephanie Noordewier said, "I mean I just think that if you have mace it's not a bad idea, it's not a bad thing."

Joyce: "You don't have it now though?"

Noordewier: "No."

Joyce: "You're not considering buying it?"

Noordewier: "Um, my mom wants me to."

We spoke with several gun dealers in the area who told us they only rarely sell sales tasers and stun guns, but some of the customers appeared to be college students. However, the dealers also told us that every time there is a news report about a violent stranger crime with a female victim, pepper spray sales skyrocket-- especially to college age women.

There are no limits to owning these devices in Vermont. However, in New York state it is illegal to own a taser or stun gun. But tasers are not cheap. They generally cost between $200-$300.

Published: Monday, April 14, 2008
Benefit concert for Gardner-Quinn
Burlington Free Press

The Burlington record label Wyld Stallions will host a benefit concert Thursday at The Monkey House in Winooski for Michelle's Earth Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in memory of slain University of Vermont student Michelle Gardner-Quinn.

The show features local performers Steph Clark, Marie Claire, Maryse Smith and The Leaves, led by Aya Inoue. Door profits and 100 percent of all money raised from a raffle will go to the foundation, which promotes involvement in sustainable environmental awareness and protection projects.

Admission is $3 for those 21 and over and $8 for ages 18-20. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the music starts at 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact The Monkey House at 655-4563 or visit www.monkeybarmusic.com.

My Turn: A thought for my Michelle
Published: Sunday, April 6, 2008
Burlington Free Press / Opinions
By Kate Gladstein

In lieu of the numerous times I have unexpectedly felt a punch in the stomach at the sight of the cover of The Burlington Free Press, and in lieu of the fact that my heart jumps in my chest at the thought of walking anywhere alone after sundown, I need to express love and forgiveness before the death of my beautiful friend stagnates to little more than a story from Page 1A.

I suppose no news is good news, and I suppose that my lady is not news at all, though her untimely murder trial is. Just when I think that the world has forgotten her name, there it is, staring back at me from a depressing front-page story. While her name might be spelled right, the Free Press is overlooking a crucial element: My friend Michelle is not there to stand by her name. Newsworthy or not, Michelle Gardner-Quinn was your neighbor, the girl you bumped elbows with at the farmers market, and the pedestrian you let cross at that crosswalk; she finally made it to live here in Vermont, and her love still permeates from every blade of grass.

She used to snort a little bit when you got her laughing too hard (which was all the time). Her big brown eyes would sparkle when you got her talking about something she cared about -- why she was vegan, the foreign countries she had lived in, her favorite books. She rode her bike everywhere and was the proud founder of a "biker gang." Until you knew Michelle she was soft-spoken and shy, yet at the same time she was assertive, strong-willed, and a bit invincible as 21 years tends to seem (I love you, I love life, won't we always?).

Sometimes she would pull her hair into this funny little bun on top of her head when she got her hands dirty -- on the long trail or in the garden -- and I still second-guess myself on some late nights at the UVM library when I am sitting near a tall brunette with a silly-looking bun.

She was a passionate environmentalist and a good friend; someone you wanted to share poetry with, make (vegan) sushi with, and do impromptu yoga with, even if it was 2 in the morning. Her sharp mind, her warm spirit, and her eternal optimism continue to move me long after the second birthday in a row she did not get to spend here.

I forgive the despicable human being who hurt her and left her in the Huntington Gorge. I can only imagine the horrors someone must have lived through to want to kill someone. I am sorry that in their sick mind, my friend had to go. But I still fear this person; I still walk the streets of this town (always with company) expecting someone to pounce. I do not fear a murder trial moving to Rutland; I fear individuals who grow up thinking it is OK to kill someone. Some get the chance to reach for dreams. Some get to watch their children grow. Some have that time, but most don't know when theirs is up, or where it goes.

So, remember your neighbor Michelle, who had a long journey for her 21 years before she made it here. She lived in Brazil and South Africa and yielded from just outside of Washington, D.C. She was not a passer-by, and the murder trial following her death is not just a story. She once lived here and she wanted to change the world.

Kate Gladstein lives in Burlington and attends the University of Vermont.

Trial Move Sought In Vermont Student Slaying Case
POSTED: 12:08 pm EDT March 21, 2008
UPDATED: 12:23 pm EDT March 21, 2008
Associated Press / Published by WPTZ Plattsburgh

MP3 File Listen to the full segment (MP3 / 723 kb / 1:30)

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The man charged with killing a University of Vermont senior said he can't get a fair trial in Chittenden County and wants his trial held elsewhere.

The attorney for Brian Rooney on Friday told a judge that pretrial publicity, including an editorial in which an FBI agent referred to the suspect as "evil," would make it impossible to find an unbiased jury in Chittenden County.

Attorney David Sleigh said the only possibility of getting a fair and impartial jury is to move the case from Chittenden County.

The 37-year-old Rooney is charged with aggravated murder in the 2006 death of Michelle Gardner-Quinn of Arlington, Va.

Prosecutors said Rooney kidnapped and sexually assaulted Gardner-Quinn before killing her.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Man on the Porch
Commentary Series (VPR)
7:55am and 5:55pm Weekdays
Wednesday January 30, 2008
Cheryl Hanna, Vermont Public Radio

MP3 File Listen to the full segment (MP3 / 1.3 mb / 2:48)

(HOST) Commentator Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, and a few weeks ago, she had an experience that has made her re-examine how Vermonters are reacting to the high-profile murder cases recently in the news.

(HANNA) I was home one afternoon with my two young children when there was a knock at my door. A slightly disheveled and distracted man stood there. I left the screen door locked.

"Can I help you?" I said.

"Can you call me a cab?"

"Excuse me?"

"I need a cab." He wasn't demanding but spoke with a sense of urgency.

"O.K." I said, and then shut the door. Something didn't seem right, so I called my husband.

"Does he seem dangerous?"

"No. But he could walk a few blocks to downtown."

"He's probably just cold," my husband advised.

So I called a cab and then told the man that it would be about 20 minutes. He nodded a thank you.

Every few minutes I looked out the window. He sat huddled on the porch, watching the street.

Then I heard a siren and someone shout, "Police. Get your hands up!"

Two officers handcuffed the man and put him in the back of the police cruiser.

They told me that he fit the description of a man who'd gotten kicked off the bus a few blocks back for allegedly harassing some women.

"Should I have called you?" I asked.

The officer's reply was both understanding and nonjudgemental.

"There was no way for you to know if he could be dangerous. I probably would have called him a cab, too. But it was good to keep your door locked."

I went to my children, who, thankfully, were too absorbed in a Disney movie to have noticed anything.

I gave them an especially long hug as frightening "what if's" ran through my mind.

And although the man on my porch didn't threaten me in any way, I couldn't help but think about Michelle Gardner-Quinn and Laura Winterbottom and all the women whose names I know from the headlines just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the wrong person crossed their path.

Then it occurred to me that I can no longer remember a time in Vermont when a high-profile murder case wasn't in the news. These cases, I think, have impacted us in more ways than we may yet understand.

Murder suspects Brian Rooney and Christopher Williams will stand trial this year, and, whatever the outcomes, the hearts and minds of Vermonters will once again be tested.

We'll again be confronted by the difference between optimism about human nature and naivete about the world as we now know it; between acting out of a generosity of spirit and acting out of a spirit of distrust; and between bravery and stupidity.

How we decide these questions will define the kind of community we'll become; and personally, I hope we'll make decisions not out of fear, but out of aspiration. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I've made peace with myself for calling the cab.

© Copyright 2007, VPR

Critical clash looms in Rooney case
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008
By Adam Silverman
Burlington Free Press Staff Writer

At first, murder suspect Brian Rooney told police he met Michelle Gardner-Quinn when she approached him in downtown Burlington to ask for help with her cell phone. Then Rooney offered an alternate account: He "stumbled across" a college girl having trouble with her phone, and he walked over to offer assistance.

Another day, Rooney said to investigators: "You guys think that I'm guilty."

Later, after Gardner-Quinn's raped and battered body was discovered in Richmond nearly a week after her October 2006 disappearance and authorities had arrested Rooney, he told detectives in a quiet voice, "If I did it, I deserve to die."

Those remarks, among a dozen or so potentially incriminating statements police attribute to Rooney, will become the focus of a milestone hearing this week. At issue is whether the suspect's words, which law enforcement argues are damning in their inconsistency, should be allowed as evidence at Rooney's trial. The defense contends a judge should throw out the comments because police employed illegal interrogation tactics.

Starting Monday in Vermont District Court in Burlington, and scheduled to occupy five full days and encompass more than a dozen witnesses, the hearing on the defense motion to suppress statements represents one of the final legal disputes before trial.

The importance is exceptional. A defense triumph could undermine the prosecution's case to the point of creating reasonable doubt -- the legal standard necessary to earn an acquittal. If prosecutors win, a case built on formidable DNA evidence might become nearly airtight, legal experts said.

"Prosecutors never want a case to be based primarily or solely on scientific evidence," said Burlington defense lawyer Paul Volk, who is not involved with the Rooney case. "I'm not sure if DNA evidence on its own would be enough to substantiate a guilty verdict. You've got to have a little more than that."

Rooney, 37, of Richmond, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated murder arising from the abduction, sexual assault and killing of Gardner-Quinn, 21, of Arlington, Va. He is jailed without bail at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole if convicted.

Statement argument

The suspect gave investigators a number of stories about how he encountered Gardner-Quinn, a University of Vermont senior pursuing environmental studies, and what transpired after they met early Oct. 7, 2006, according to court papers. He never confessed and maintained he and the student parted ways before anything happened to her, authorities say in sworn accounts.

Gardner-Quinn's body was discovered Oct. 13, 2006, at Huntington Gorge in Richmond. According to a police time line, Rooney killed her and dumped her remains within two hours of kidnapping her after their chance encounter downtown.

In his motion to suppress, defense lawyer David Sleigh argues a judge should bar prosecutors from using Rooney's statements at trial because detectives ignored Rooney's requests to speak with a lawyer and failed to recite his rights before questioning. Constant surveillance and frequent interrogations overwhelmed Rooney and caused him to acquiesce, Sleigh contends.

"Mr. Rooney's environment was completely dominated by the police," the lawyer wrote in his motion to suppress. "His will was effectively overborne by the circumstances created by the police tactics."

Prosecutors counter Rooney knew what he was doing and spoke with police voluntarily, sometimes approaching investigators to chat, and authorities never placed the suspect in custody, applied coercive tactics or ignored requests for counsel. Accordingly, Rooney's comments should be fair game, lawyers with the Chittenden County State's Attorney's Office argue.

"During the period of time defendant claims he was in custody, he was in fact free to move about unrestrained, free to cease communicating with the police, and free to refuse to answer any police question," prosecutor Brooks McArthur wrote in response to Sleigh's motion.

A gag order bars participants from making public comments about the proceedings outside the courtroom.

What's at stake

The prosecution doesn't need a confession to turn Rooney's words against him; a slew of denials with differing details can be nearly as compelling -- and incriminating, said Bob Simpson, a former Chittenden County state's attorney. He is not connected with the Rooney proceedings but spoke generally about legal issues rather than details of the case.

"These kind of things can speak to undermining the credibility of the defendant," he said. "He was either telling the truth at one time or another time, so it may be a sign of a lie."

People generally assume a suspect's inconsistent statements are evidence of guilt, said Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

"The theory is that people who are innocent are forthright with police," she said. But that's not always so. Blameless people have told contradictory stories, too, she said, and drinking amplifies that possibility.

Rooney and other witnesses told police he was drunk the night he encountered Gardner-Quinn, according to court papers.

Losing Rooney's statements as evidence would weaken the prosecution's case and increase the defense's chance of raising reasonable doubt, Hanna said. His comments, she said, are "vitally important."

Without them, the prosecution would have little to refute a possible defense argument of consensual sex, she said. With the statements, prosecutors could ask Rooney why he never said that before.

"They want to show Rooney has been consistently suggesting guilt since the very beginning," she said. "It's harder to explain away the DNA if he made conflicting or incriminating statements."

Even if they lose the suppression argument, prosecutors still would have a chance to convict Rooney at trial, Hanna said.

For the defense to win an acquittal, she said, "the jury's got to believe a story that's pretty improbable: that they had consensual sex, he went on his way, and then she was killed by someone else who just happened to be in the area."

Volk, the defense lawyer not affiliated with the Rooney case, said prosecutors must prove during this week's hearing that Rooney's statements were knowing and voluntary.

"The presumption of innocence applies," Volk said. "Before the state is able to use evidence as damaging to a defendant as his own words, there ought to be a finding, before the jury has a chance to hear it, that the sovereign played fair."

Beyond its significance, the hearing is nearly unprecedented in its logistics. The weeklong proceeding is scheduled to take more time than a number of complete Vermont murder trials.

Contact Adam Silverman at 660-1854 or asilverm@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

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