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Mom Appeals Estate Ruling In Taser Case

Chelsea — The mother of a Thetford man killed by a stun gun fired by a State Police trooper is appealing a probate judge’s decision to appoint the mother of the man’s young daughter as administrator of his estate.

MacAdam Mason’s mother, Rhonda Taylor, was named administrator of his estate following his death in June 2012.

But, earlier this year, a probate judge granted a request by Corinna Magalhaes, the mother of Mason’s daughter, to remove Taylor as administrator. Magalhaes has claimed that the girl, who is about 10 years old, is the rightful heir to Mason’s estate. Taylor countered in court papers that Magalhaes became interested in Mason’s estate only after she learned that the “principal asset” of the estate was the “value of a wrongful death action,” a lawsuit that Taylor has been preparing to file against state authorities.

“(Magalhaes) apparently expressed little, if any, interest in the estate’s administration when it was thought that (Mason’s) principal assets were a car and numerous paintings done by the decedent of only ‘sentimental value,’” Taylor’s attorney, Robert Appel, wrote in court papers.

In his ruling in favor of Magalhaes, Judge Bernard M. Lewis cited a 2009 case in which the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the 4-year-old daughter of a man killed in a car accident in Bennington County was the executor of his estate. The Supreme Court ruled that the daughter could file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Appel filed a notice to appeal in probate court in March. In denying that appeal, Lewis asserted that the appeal notice was not filed on time and did not meet several standards, including that there “must be substantial grounds for difference of opinion” in the matter.

Taylor and Appel turned to civil court last week, filing an appeal to Lewis’ denial and a renewed notice of appeal to the February decision.

Appel’s filing asserts that the appeal is a matter of a right. As for the original February decision, he argues that the 2009 Bennington County case is “factually distinguished” from the suit involving Mason’s estate because the mother of the sole heir “came forward to seek appointment as (administrator) within the 30 days after the death of the person...”

In the case of Mason’s estate, Appel wrote, “it is beyond dispute that Ms. Magalhaes made no such request until June 17, 2013, almost exactly one year after the death of (Mason). ... Having slept on her rights until she realized that Mr. Mason’s estate had some value in a wrongful death action, the doctrine of laches dictates that Ms. Magalhaes should not be allowed to displace (Taylor as the administrator) who has invested considerable amounts of her time and energy into the administration of her son’s estate and has done nothing to in any way demonstrate that she is not suitable to continue to serve as administrator.”

Messages left for Magalhaes and her attorney, Rusty Valsangiacomo, were not returned Monday. Her previous attorney, Gregory McNaughton, said in court papers that Magalhaes originally did not have an attorney and “did not want to intrude or intervene in what she perceived as Rhonda’s right to resolve (the estate).” McNaughton also wrote that Magalhaes initially did not realize that her daughter could potentially benefit from wrongful death claims.

In a phone interview, Appel said he hopes to hear something from the civil division, overseen by Judge Robert Gerety, in 10 to 14 days.

Mason’s girlfriend, Theresa Davidonis, settled a civil lawsuit against the state in December. The settlement was resolved without admission of liability by State Police. Instead, the suit alleged that Davidonis suffered emotional distress and that police had trespassed on her property.

State Police troopers responded to the Sawnee Bean Road home shared by Mason and Davidonis on June 20, 2012, after Mason, 39, called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and threatened to harm himself and others. Police claimed Mason aggressively came at a trooper with a closed fist, prompting him to fire the stun gun, striking Mason in the chest.

Davidonis and her son, who both witnessed the shooting, claimed that Mason had raised up his hands in a surrender position, took two steps toward the trooper and said, “Go ahead and shoot me.” The trooper, David Shaffer, then fired his stun gun into Mason’s chest, which killed him, according to the New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office. Attorney General Bill Sorrell cleared Shaffer of wrongdoing and he remained on active duty.

A message left with Taylor was not returned on Monday. In an interview last June, she said she cares about Mason’s daughter having an “equitable settlement,” but she does not want Mason’s death “swept under the rug.”

“I’m not just looking at a settlement for my granddaughter,” she said. “I’m looking at change for the people of Vermont.”

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