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Driver Opts for Prison Over Bail

Woodstock Man Awaits Plea Deal in Crash That Killed Friend

  • After watching her brother, Woodstock resident Justin Pierce, decline to post bail and enter custody during a hearing at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Morgan Pierce hugs her uncle, Clifton Potwin, of Claremont Wednesday, February 5, 2014. At right, Jesse Pierce, Justin and Morgan's father, hugs a man who declined to be identified. Morgan Pierce was engaged to Jon Ferrero, who died in an accident last summer in which Justin Pierce has been charged.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    After watching her brother, Woodstock resident Justin Pierce, decline to post bail and enter custody during a hearing at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Morgan Pierce hugs her uncle, Clifton Potwin, of Claremont Wednesday, February 5, 2014. At right, Jesse Pierce, Justin and Morgan's father, hugs a man who declined to be identified. Morgan Pierce was engaged to Jon Ferrero, who died in an accident last summer in which Justin Pierce has been charged.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Justin Pierce of Woodstock talks with his attorney, Cabot Teachout, right, during a hearing in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, February 5, 2014. Pierce decided not to post bail and will go to jail in order to receive credit for time served toward his sentence in the event a plea agreement is made with prosecutors.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Justin Pierce of Woodstock talks with his attorney, Cabot Teachout, right, during a hearing in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, February 5, 2014. Pierce decided not to post bail and will go to jail in order to receive credit for time served toward his sentence in the event a plea agreement is made with prosecutors.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • After watching her brother, Woodstock resident Justin Pierce, decline to post bail and enter custody during a hearing at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Morgan Pierce hugs her uncle, Clifton Potwin, of Claremont Wednesday, February 5, 2014. At right, Jesse Pierce, Justin and Morgan's father, hugs a man who declined to be identified. Morgan Pierce was engaged to Jon Ferrero, who died in an accident last summer in which Justin Pierce has been charged.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Justin Pierce of Woodstock talks with his attorney, Cabot Teachout, right, during a hearing in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, February 5, 2014. Pierce decided not to post bail and will go to jail in order to receive credit for time served toward his sentence in the event a plea agreement is made with prosecutors.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — A Woodstock man has voluntarily begun serving a prison sentence in anticipation of a plea bargain in connection with a single-car accident last summer that killed his best friend.

Justin Pierce, 22, has yet to plead guilty to a criminal charge, but when Windsor Superior Court Judge Karen Carroll set Pierce’s bail at $100 on Wednesday, Pierce chose not to pay it, opting instead to be sent to jail.

The arrangement allows Pierce to start serving his time in advance of finalizing a plea agreement, which is expected within a few weeks, defense attorney Cabot Teachout said in court on Wednesday.

“It’s not too often that people tell us they want to go to prison, but today Mr. Pierce indicated that he wished to report to prison and the way he expressed that desire was by asking that bail be set and then he decided not to post it,” Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said after the hearing.

Pierce was driving home on Aug. 18 after winning a summer league championship baseball game in Walpole, N.H., when his gray Chevrolet pickup truck struck a guardrail, flipped and hit a tree before coming to rest in a brook on Fletcher Hill Road in Woodstock. His passenger and friend, 22-year-old Jon Ferrero, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ferrero was engaged to Pierce’s sister.

Pierce was charged in November with driving under the influence resulting in a fatality and gross negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in a fatality. Pierce pleaded not guilty to both charges at that time.

A blood test conducted by the state forensics lab estimated that Pierce had a blood alcohol level of about 0.16 percent at the time of the crash, twice the legal limit for driving, according to a police affidavit.

Pierce told police that he had about four or five cans of beer after the baseball game and that he was “slightly” under the influence of alcohol when driving home, according to a police affidavit.

On Jan. 30, Pierce’s attorney, Christopher Dall, filed a motion in court asking to modify Pierce’s bail so he could “serve a jail term in anticipation of a negotiated resolution of the charged offenses.”

Pierce appeared briefly in Windsor Superior Court on Wednesday wearing a green Woodstock High Wasps jersey with the No. 10 on the back.

When the motion was first brought before Carroll, she wanted more information, noting that it wasn’t clear to her what sentence Pierce would be serving. But she ultimately set bail at $100.

“Should we set it for a change of plea? Or are we not even there yet?” Carroll asked.

The parties agreed that a change of plea could be scheduled, and Carroll ordered one to be scheduled within three weeks.

The hearing only lasted a couple of minutes, and Pierce didn’t speak. He stood next to his attorney while eight family members, including his mother, sister and father, sat in the gallery.

Cahill said a sentence would likely include both prison time and additional home confinement.

After judge Carroll agreed to set his bail at $100, Pierce walked over to a uniformed officer who would lead him to the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt.

As he did, Pierce looked back at his attorney and family and gave a brief smile.

After Pierce was led away, friends and relatives attending the hearing did not immediately exit the courtroom, but remained seated while Teachout and Cahill spoke quietly to each other.

When Teachout began to exit the courtroom, Pierce’s mother, Lisa, motioned toward him and said, “Excuse me, he left his coat here,” as she held up a black winter jacket belonging to her son.

Lisa Pierce then handed it to Teachout, who took it to Pierce, who was already in another room.

Pierce’s family lingered outside the courtroom before heading outside in the snow, and family members took turns embracing Pierce’s mother, father and sister, Morgan, in the parking lot.

The family declined to comment.

Ferrero’s mother, Nancy Ferrero, told the Valley News last fall that she did not want Pierce to go to prison, and she has said she looks upon Pierce and his sister, Morgan, like her own children.

It was Morgan Pierce who was engaged to Jon Ferrero.

Ferrero’s mother, Nancy, was unavailable for an interview Wednesday evening.

After the hearing, Cahill explained that a plea agreement wasn’t formally presented to the court on Wednesday because the court first must give public notice of a change of plea and sentencing hearing to the victim’s family so they are given an opportunity to attend and offer comment.

Cahill said requests such as this are unusual and added that he can only recall one other time in which a defendant voluntarily chose prison over posting bail.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.