Court hears motions in Chester/Ludlow sex assault cases

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION

A Windsor County criminal court judge heard motions on Tuesday regarding taking  depositions in the sexual assault cases against Chester teenager Ryan Stocker.

Ryan Stocker and his attorney Melvin Fink prepare to begin the motion hearing. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

In June, Stocker was charged with two counts of sexual assault in connection with incidents that happened in May 2017 and October 2015. Later he was charged with kidnapping, attempted aggravated sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child in a July 2015 incident.

On Tuesday, Judge Timothy B. Tomasi considered the arguments of defense attorney Melvin Fink and Deputy State’s Attorney Heidi Remick on how long the depositions of the girls who have accused Stocker can be and what subjects can be brought up. The question of whether the deposition of a complainant who is doing a school year abroad must be done by phone or video was also considered.

A deposition is the sworn questioning of someone involved in a case as part of pre-trial discovery. Vermont state statutes prescribe that a complainant in certain cases – including sex crimes – is a “sensitive witness” and that ground rules for questioning such a witness must be agreed upon by both sides in advance. If the prosecution and defense can’t agree, the judge in the case may order a solution.

Fink told the court that he and the prosecution could not agree on “the length and breadth of the examination,” and asked the court to allow the defense to question the victims in the cases filed in June for three hours and to bring up “post incident personal communications,” which Fink said would “take considerable time to inquire, develop and explore.” He also noted that he anticipated asking some questions that the state says are prohibited by the state’s rape shield statute.

The rape shield law says that certain types of questions regarding a victim’s sexual history are off limits in questioning.

Deputy States Attorney Heidi Remick answers Fink’s motion to dismiss the charges in the May 2017 incident.

Fink also said he needed time to explore communications of family members and others in the case. Fink also told the court that, from his experience, where there is “not a whole lot of memory about what transpired and memories are vague” it takes more time to depose a witness.

Fink also objected to the state’s contention that a telephone or video deposition with the victim who is out of the country would be sufficient. The defense attorney said that he wants to be able to “confront the alleged victim – that’s very important.” Fink said he would be presenting documents that the victim would be asked about and that he did not want her to see them in advance.

He noted that the accuser won’t be back in the country until May 2018 and that said “takes a toll on my client’s right to a speedy trial.”

But Remick said, “We have no mechanism to compel her to appear, but she is willing to make herself available for questions by Skype or phone.” She also noted that it is the state’s right to decide the order in which the three cases will be tried.  Remick said that the most serious case is the one in which Stocker was charged with kidnapping, attempted sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. It is also the one that is keeping him  in jail on $100,000 bail. “That’s where a speedy trial is most at issue,” said Remick, adding that by the time the other cases are tried, the complainant would be back in the United States.

Remick told the court that it would be “abusive to the complainants to be subjected to questioning” for three hours, and called it “unnecessary.” Noting that the rape shield law might cover some of the material the defense wants the victim to comment on and that it would “fill up time badgering the complainants – adolescent girls – with conversation of dubious value to the case.”

In his ruling, Tomasi noted that he was sensitive to the issue of belaboring a deposition and said that he did not think that Fink would badger the witnesses, but that such conduct could result in suspending the questioning. Tomasi agreed to a two and a half hour deposition, but asked that Remick be flexible if there were a few questions at the end of the session so that they would not have to come back to court for another order.

Citing his own experience with Skype depositions as an attorney, Tomasi told the defense that it should explore that route noting that commercial services exist to facilitate such depositions.

A motion to dismiss, another to establish a pattern

Fink also filed a motion to dismiss charges in the incident that took place in May 2017 involving a classmate of Stocker at Green Mountain Union High School, noting that the complainant’s hazy memories of the evening make it impossible to prove that the assault happened.

Remick argued the charges should not be dismissed because Stocker has admitted to having sex with the complainant, that the complainant could not have legally consented due to inebriation and that Stocker knew she was inebriated.

Remick also filed a motion to admit evidence of sexual misconduct with several young women who were impaired by alcohol as “evidence of a common scheme or plan” that should be admissible in all three of the trials Stocker is facing.

In a footnote to that motion, Remick noted that the state is aware of two other ongoing investigations that are “not yet ripe for prosecution.”

Stocker continues to be held at Southern State Correctional Facility for lack of $100,000 bail. The next appearance on the criminal court calendar is March 5, 2018 although it seems certain there will be more motions before then.

 

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