Family Struggles For Justice in Death of Vt. Woman 3 Years Ago
Montpelier — Relatives of a 78-year-old woman abducted from her Sheffield home and killed nearly three years ago are struggling to get closure because no one has been charged in her death.
Prosecutors have linked three men to Pat O’Hagan’s September 2010 death in what they think was a botched robbery but don’t have enough evidence to bring charges.
“I just find it hard to believe that this group committed the perfect crime. It’s mind-boggling,” said Mark O’Hagan, 47, the youngest of O’Hagan’s five children.
Pat O’Hagan’s body was found by bird hunters in a remote area in the neighboring town of Wheelock three weeks after she disappeared. Her death was ruled a homicide.
One of the suspects, 26-year-old Richard Fletcher of Sheffield, was sentenced Tuesday in an unrelated child pornography case to more than 15 years in prison. During the sentencing, the government was allowed to discuss the O’Hagan case as the judge considered Fletcher’s character and criminal conduct as part of the sentencing, which Fletcher’s attorney tried to fight.
Included was a statement that Fletcher made to police saying that he and his cousin Michael Norrie had gone to O’Hagan’s house to rob her and that Norrie shot her, said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow. A correctional officer also testified that Fletcher told him he had been haunted by the image of O’Hagan.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss found that there was a preponderance of evidence that Fletcher was involved in O’Hagan’s death, but she denied the government’s request to add five years to the minimum sentence of 15. She also denied the O’Hagans’ request to speak at the sentencing.
“It’s been a long couple of years and to feel like you have finally have an opportunity to see the system work to your favor ... just to have a resounding thud, that’s difficult,” Mark O’Hagan said.
The state asked federal officials to get involved basically to help get some justice for the family, which was extremely unusual, said Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire.
“We did that because of the state of the evidence, and, you know, we’re two years and nine months into this investigation and unfortunately not much has changed where we have sufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge. It’s extremely frustrating,” Maguire said.
Fletcher is incarcerated on other charges and won’t start the new sentence until 2016. He has a total of 21 years to serve.
If Fletcher were charged in connection with the case, his lawyer Karen Shingler said she’s certain he would plead not guilty.
A day after his sentencing, Norrie changed his plea to guilty on charges including being a convicted drug user in possession of a stolen gun. His lawyer didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Fletcher’s brother, Keith Baird, also has been linked to the crime. He’s being held on 48 violations of abuse prevention orders. His lawyer didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Complicating the case are statutes of limitations on charges such as accessory to murder, disposing of the body.
“The window is closing in the fall, which is ridiculous,” Mark O’Hagan said.
There’s no statute of limitations on murder.
The O’Hagans could be back in federal court to try to speak at Norrie’s sentencing and get a tougher sentence for him, but Mark O’Hagan questions how much good it will do.
“There’s potential that we could be sitting back in the same courtroom with the same judge and, who knows, potentially the same defense attorney. You know, if it’s the judge’s feeling that dealing with unrelated issues under the one envelope isn’t what she determines to be the right venue, I don’t know. I don’t know what the impact will be,” he said.