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Judge Rejects Plea Deal in Shooting

  • Defense attorney Dan Sedon argues the case for a plea deal for his client Thomas Berecz, right, to Judge Robert Gerety in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Gerety rejected the deal that would have given Berecz a suspended sentence for allegedly shooting into an occupied car in 2010. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Defense attorney Dan Sedon argues the case for a plea deal for his client Thomas Berecz, right, to Judge Robert Gerety in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Gerety rejected the deal that would have given Berecz a suspended sentence for allegedly shooting into an occupied car in 2010.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Diane Moses leaves Orange Superior Court in Chelsea with her husband, Jim Moses, after a plea hearing for Thomas Berecz on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Moses is carrying the bullet-pocked door of the car that his son James was in when Berecz allegedly shot it in 2010. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Diane Moses leaves Orange Superior Court in Chelsea with her husband, Jim Moses, after a plea hearing for Thomas Berecz on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Moses is carrying the bullet-pocked door of the car that his son James was in when Berecz allegedly shot it in 2010.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Orange Superior Court Judge Robert Gerety expresses misgivings about a plea deal reached by attorneys in the case of Thomas Berecz in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Orange Superior Court Judge Robert Gerety expresses misgivings about a plea deal reached by attorneys in the case of Thomas Berecz in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Defense attorney Dan Sedon argues the case for a plea deal for his client Thomas Berecz, right, to Judge Robert Gerety in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Gerety rejected the deal that would have given Berecz a suspended sentence for allegedly shooting into an occupied car in 2010. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Diane Moses leaves Orange Superior Court in Chelsea with her husband, Jim Moses, after a plea hearing for Thomas Berecz on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. Moses is carrying the bullet-pocked door of the car that his son James was in when Berecz allegedly shot it in 2010. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Orange Superior Court Judge Robert Gerety expresses misgivings about a plea deal reached by attorneys in the case of Thomas Berecz in Chelsea, Vt., Wednesday, January 8, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Chelsea — A judge rejected a proposed plea agreement that would have seen a Thetford man serve 30 days in jail for shooting at an occupied car more than three years ago.

Judge Robert P. Gerety said he had “concerns” about a deferred sentence included the plea deal, which had been negotiated by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Gerety also raised concerns about the probation conditions and the length of the maximum sentence, but stopped short of outlining what he would like to see in an plea agreement.

“You need to go back to the drawing board,” Gerety told attorneys in Orange Superior Court on Wednesday.

Thomas Berecz, 44, has been charged with felony aggravated assault in connection with the September 2010 incident. Authorities allege Berecz fired 30-30 rifle rounds into a car occupied by men with whom he had been feuding.

As part of the proposed plea deal, Berecz previously had pleaded no contest to the aggravated assault charge. He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. Attorneys had proposed a prison sentence of 1 to 2 years, with all but 30 days suspended, plus 60 days on a work crew and five years of probation.

Berecz’s defense attorney, Dan Sedon, said in court that the dissolution of the deal meant Berecz was withdrawing his earlier guilty pleas and would now plead not guilty and that the case likely will go to trial.

The fact that his client shot at the cars was not in dispute, Sedon said earlier, but he noted that at a trial, the state would have to prove that bullets fired by Berecz actually hit the car — his father, Fred Berecz, previously pleaded no contest to firing at the car that night and that the younger Berecz’s intent was to harm the occupants when he fired the shots.

Following Gerety’s decision, Sedon said it would be difficult to find an alternative to a deferred sentence that would be suitable for his client and prosecutor Thomas Kelly.

“The problem is I still don’t quite understand what the objection is,” Sedon said in an interview after Wednesday’s hearing. He noted that attorneys have already tried to settle the case twice and were about to go to trial once before. “So I wouldn’t rule it out entirely that we might (come to a plea agreement), but it looks like we’re going to trial.”

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 22.

Both Kelly and Sedon acknowledged in court that the deal was, in Kelly’s words, “an imperfect product of compromise.” Kelly said that the men in the car — cousins James Moses Jr., 26, and Kyle Moses, 24, — and their family members were “not happy” with the sentence.

James Moses Jr. suffered a wound to his leg, while Kyle Moses was unharmed.

Crystal Moses, Kyle Moses’ mother, said she was heartened by the judge’s decision, describing him as the first official involved in the case to “consider these boys to be victims.”

“Until the judge just spoke, I haven’t heard one person concerned about these boys getting justice,” she said. “I’m pleased that somebody finally said what (Berecz) did was substantial and needs substantial punishment.”

Neither of the Moses cousins were in court Wednesday. Crystal Moses said they could not make it because of work obligations.

The case has seen a string of prosecutors, as Orange County State’s Attorney Will Porter withdrew from the case in May 2011 citing an “irretrievable breakdown in relations between the victims, their extended family and the Orange County State’s Attorney Office.” The deputy handled it for several months before leaving his job and giving it to Kelly.

Similarly, Gerety is the fourth judge on the case, as it has moved back and forth between Washington Superior Court and Orange County.

The September 2010 feud stemmed from a dispute between Berecz, his ex-wife Diane, her new boyfriend and the boyfriend’s family.

Berecz filed for divorce from his wife in June 2010 and moved across the street to live with his father, Fred.

His ex-wife continued living in the home, and her boyfriend Jim Moses Sr., father of one of the victims, moved in later.

Thomas Berecz accused the Moses family of “threatening and harassing him.” Under escalating tensions, he and his father blockaded one of their two driveways on Sept. 13, 2010, to block off intruders.

That evening, a vehicle sped up their driveway, according to court filings, and Thomas and Fred Berecz began to shoot.

Fred Berecz struck a plea deal in 2012, pleading no contest to reckless endangerment for firing shots from a .38 pistol during the incident, and spent 30 days on a work crew.

Berecz’s ex-wife, who was previously named Diane Berecz and was referred to in court as Diane Moses, declined to comment outside the courtroom Wednesday. It was unclear if and when she and Jim Moses Sr. were married.

Fred Berecz also declined to comment.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

CORRECTION

Fred Berecz accepted a plea agreement in 2012 in which he pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless endangerment and served 30 days on a work crew in relation to a 2010 incident in which prosecutors said he and his son shot at an occupied car in their driveway. Berecz's plea agreement and sentencing were incorrect in an earlier version of this story.