New Trial Sought in Vermont Murder; Lawyers Argue Jury Denied Evidence
Kyle Bolaski on August 18, 2008, at his arraignment in Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Vincent Tamburello Sr., left, and his wife, Ronnie Tamburello, react in May 2011 to the jury's guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of Kyle Bolaski, who shot and killed their son, Vincent, in a 2008 dispute. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Montpelier — Two years after watching a jury convict their son of murder, David and Kathy Bolaski stood outside the hushed chamber of the Vermont Supreme Court last week, hoping that a 15-minute argument that had just been presented to justices would be enough to win a new trial for Kyle.
“We’re pretty anxious,” David Bolaski, of Springfield, Vt., said in an interview after the five-member high court heard his son’s appeal. “I look forward to getting their opinion. We feel strongly. We stand behind him, and there were good arguments made today, and I’m looking forward to the decision.”
The appeal filed on behalf of Bolaski is underpinned by a fundamental issue his lawyers contend is relevant to his case: The jury was wrongly denied the opportunity to hear crucial evidence during 2011 trial that could have led them to accept Bolaski’s argument that he shot Vincent Tamburello in self defense, attorney William Nelson argued last week.
Specifically, Nelson challenged Judge Patricia Zimmerman’s ruling that disallowed the jury from learning that Tamburello, who charged at Bolaski with a split-maul, had attempted suicide and threatened to make additional attempts in the days before the shooting, and from learning details of Tamburello’s medical records. Nelson also offered a second argument; that Zimmerman gave erroneous jury instructions that, Bolaski’s lawyers claim, led to jurors not fully considering a possible conviction on manslaughter, not murder.
During oral arguments last week before the high court justices, Nelson said the evidence suggested that Tamburello may have been attempting suicide in his confrontation with Bolaski.
Justice Beth Robinson said Tamburello’s state of mind seemed important evidence to weigh.
“It’s the time period immediately around these events and the state of mind he brings to them,” Robinson said. “It’s that character.”
But Assistant Vermont Attorney General David Tartter argued that Tamburello’s mental state was irrelevant, and that a jury rightly rejected Bolaski’s self-defense claim.
Justice Brian Burgess seemed sympathetic with Zimmerman’s decision to exclude the evidence of Tamburello’s suicidal actions, noting that Tamburello’s prior mental state could be subject to an array of interpretations.
“If we get into these areas, we end up having small trials within the trials, and that would be distracting to the jury — why is that erroneous?” Burgess said.
Justices could issue a written ruling at any time, but typically take at least a few months after hearing oral arguments.
Bolaski is serving a 25 year to life sentence for second-degree murder in the death of Tamburello, 32, during a melee at a Chester, Vt. softball field in August 2008. Tamburello, a Boston native who had recently moved to Vermont, had been feuding with a group of Bolaski’s friends for days, after a disagreement about stolen marijuana.
At the softball field, Tamburello charged at the group with a split-maul. Bolaski grabbed a .30-06 rifle and shot Tamburello twice, once in the leg, and once in the back.
Bolaski argued that he fired in self-defense, but a jury took only two hours to return a guilty verdict after a two week trial in Windsor Superior Court.
Tamburello’s parents Vince and Roni attended the hearing, as they have nearly every event since the 2008 shooting. Vince Tamburello said they saw little merit in the appeal: Jurors heard again and again that Bolaski had fired in self-defense, Taumburello said, and unanimously rejected it.
“He was given all the opportunity to bring out self-defense,” Vince Tamburello said. “Obviously, no one knows how the Supreme Court is going to rule (but) I don’t see any precedent. It was rejected by the jury. It had nothing to do with self-defense. It’s absolutely ridiculous. He was shot in the back, running away. You don’t kill yourself running away from somebody.”
Bolaski’s parents were less eager to rehash the case, but talked of their efforts to support their son, who has been transferred to a prison in Kentucky, where Vermont sends many long-term inmates.
Every few weeks, the Bolaskis hop into a car early on a Friday morning, drive 14 hours to Kentucky, stay a motel, and make full use of the eight hours of visitation time allowed on both Saturday and Sunday before heading back to Vermont on Monday morning.
“We try to make the most of it,” David Bolaski said.
In prison, Bolaski, an avid outdoorsman, has helped to train dogs as part of a popular inmate program, his parents said. And he has been keeping close tabs on his appeal.
“He does a wonderful job — I’m really proud of him,” Kathy Bolaski said. “He’s making the most of his life,”
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.
Vincent Tamburello Jr. was shot and killed during a confrontation in Chester, Vt., in August 2008. Tamburello's first name was omitted in an earlier version of this story.