Several Factors Went Into Timing of Bethel Shooting Charges
Emily Y. Perkins talks to attorney Devin McLaughlin at the start of a motion hearing at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on February 20, 2014. Perkins, who is facing an attempted murder charge for allegedly shooting Emma Jozefiak, filed a motion to review her bail amount, to apply for the Home Detention Program and to allow her parents and stepfather to meet her $75,000 bail requirement. (Valley News - Will Parson)
Gunshot victim Emma Jozefiak leaves the Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., following the arriagnment of Emily Y. Perkins on Feb. 6, 2014. Perkins is accused of attempting to murder Jozefiak, who was found in a Bethel, Vt., trailer with a serious gunshot wound on Nov. 11, 2011.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Emily Y. Perkins is led into the courtroom at the Windsor Superior Court at the beginning of her arraignment in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 6, 2014. Perkins was arrested Wednesday afternoon and is being charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting Emma Jozefiak, who was found injured and unresponsive in a trailer in Bethel, Vt., on Nov. 11, 2011.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
White River Junction — Much of the evidence that would be presented in an affidavit charging Emily Y. Perkins with the attempted second-degree murder of a 19-year-old South Royalton woman had been gathered within three months of the November 2011 shooting.
By January 2012, police had possession of the .22 caliber semiautomatic pistol that they believe was used to shoot both Emma Jozefiak, who was critically injured, and Scott Hill, who was found dead, at Hill’s Bethel trailer.
They had text messages that Perkins had sent within minutes of the shooting that, according to a police affidavit, advertised the sale of Percocet pills she had taken from the trailer.
And they had statements given by Perkins in which she provided an ever-changing account of her actions up to the point when she acknowledged to police on Jan. 27, 2012, that she had shot Jozefiak.
Perkins told police that the shooting of Jozefiak was accidental and occurred after she had taken the gun away from Jozefiak who, according to Perkins’ account, had shot Hill during an argument. Police and prosecutors say that forensic evidence gathered at the scene and Jozefiak’s injuries — the bullet wounds — contradict Perkins’ claims.
Jozefiak and Hill were found in the trailer on Nov. 11, 2011. State Police had interviewed Perkins several times by the end of January 2012, court records indicate, and the last “substantive conversation” between police officers and Perkins occurred on March 29, 2012, Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said.
Jozefiak recovered sufficiently enough from her injuries by late spring 2012 to tell investigators that she couldn’t recall what happened the day of the shootings. Perkins is also charged with two felony counts of attempting to sell Percocet that she took from Hill’s residence.
Yet Perkins would not be arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder until February of this year, almost two years after investigators had pieced together a preliminary picture of what they believed had occurred.
While law enforcement officials continued to gather evidence up until three weeks before the 27-year-old Perkins was arrested, Cahill said, a draft of the affidavit presented in Windsor County Superior Court had been written at least a year before the arrest.
Officials say several factors contributed to the lengthy period it took them to make an arrest. Among them was the time required to allow Jozefiak to heal — time needed to gather ballistics evidence based on her wounds and to determine the extent to which her memory would recover. Waiting for final results from the state crime lab also contributed, Cahill said.
And, they acknowledged, the fact that Perkins’ husband had terminal brain cancer also contributed. Perkins has two young children.
Speaking about law enforcement procedures in general and not specifically about the Bethel shootings, Cahill said prosecutors and police want to assemble the strongest case possible.
“While there may be enough evidence to meet the bare minimum legal threshold for an arrest on Day One, the State Police may nonetheless continue their investigation for additional days, weeks or years until they are satisfied handing over the case for prosecution,” Cahill said in an email.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the attempted second-degree murder charge, police allege Perkins shot Jozefiak three times in the course of stealing prescription pain pills from Hill’s trailer. Jozefiak, who had been living with Hill, was left for dead, Cahill said during Perkins’ February arraignment.
Investigators executed a search warrant of Perkins’ home and found the .22 caliber High Standard Dura-Matic semiautomatic pistol on Jan. 26, 2012. That same day, Perkins was interviewed by State Police at the Hartford Police Department, according to the affidavit. The next day, Perkins was interviewed at the State Police barracks in Royalton. It was then she told investigators she accidentally shot Jozefiak after Jozefiak killed Hill, a 48-year-old longtime Bethel resident.
Prosecutors have said Jozefiak is not a suspect in Hill’s murder, while also saying Perkins has not been ruled out as a suspect.
Cahill declined to identify when law enforcement officials believed their investigation had secured enough evidence to charge Perkins in Jozefiak’s shooting.
“I can’t say when it was when I felt comfortable (filing a charge) because it was ultimately when the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations felt comfortable giving us the case,” Cahill said. “Our office never placed a demand on them that said it must be done by this date.”
Det. Lt. Todd Illingworth, of the Vermont State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, said his agency was waiting for evidence such as records from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where Jozefiak was treated, and results from the forensic lab. Illingworth declined to say when police believed they could charge Perkins or to discuss the specifics of why it took two years to arrest her.
“It was a very deliberate process that has to happen,” Illingworth said. “We don’t want to have a rush to judgment.”
‘Strategic Dead Time’
Cahill said there were numerous pieces of evidence, from a prosecutor’s perspective, that he wanted to obtain before an arrest was made.
“Yes, there is dead time in there, but from the state’s perspective, it is strategic dead time,” Cahill said.
One fact that made investigators’ jobs more challenging was that Jozefiak survived her injuries and received treatment from multiple medical professionals.
In murder cases, by contrast, a body is examined by the medical examiner and all of the analysis is done within that office.
In this case, Jozefiak received care from providers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, as well as secondary providers, making the gathering and analyzing of evidence more complex.
Each medical provider had a specialty and the potential to provide a “discrete piece of information that may have evidentiary value,” Cahill said. But at the same time, those medical professionals might not have the expertise to determine the trajectory of a bullet.
“It took a little while to first gather all the evidence, and second, get it analyzed and third, to make sure the people who are doing that analysis are in our view qualified to render that opinion,” Cahill said.
Cahill provided a few specific dates of when reports were filed.
∎ On Feb. 21, 2013, a radiologist at DHMC filed an addendum to his report on the CT scan of Jozefiak.
∎ On March 28, 2013, Chief Medical Examiner Steven Shapiro issued a supplemental affidavit in the case.
∎ O n May 14, 2013, Harry Jeppe, firearms examiner at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, submitted a report.
Additionally, Cahill said there was a do-over on the initial stages of the ballistics analysis because the person who was conducting the initial analysis left the state lab to become a medical student. Cahill said he wasn’t comfortable with the idea that he might have to track down that analyst to be a witness at court if she was studying in a different part of the country. So Cahill requested that the lab have an analyst who planned to stay with the lab for a significant period conduct a new evaluation.
Cahill, however, didn’t want to blame the lab for any perceived delay.
“If the question is, is it the lab’s fault that the case took as long as it did, the answer is no, not really,” Cahill said.
Additionally, Cahill said investigators were always waiting, and still are, to see if Jozefiak’s memory would come back.
“One might say that we eventually lost hope she would remember what happened,” Cahill wrote in an email. “ ... That hope has been in the back of our minds for the past two years, and, yes, it is one of the reasons why this case took as long as it did to come to court.”
The police affidavit states that all the fired shell casings found at the scene came from Perkins’ semiautomatic pistol. Police searched phone records and found a series of text messages between Perkins and Hill about drug transactions and that Perkins was looking to sell the handgun.
(Perkins also is charged with burglary and a petit larceny charge for entering Tracy’s Midway Station in Sharon in December 2011 and allegedly stealing money and cigarettes. Perkins told police at the time that she did not have a lot of money because she was purchasing pills to support her drug habit and was in need of money, according to a police affidavit.)
Two live rounds were discovered at the scene that indicate the cartridges were jammed in the firearm during a malfunction. Perkins said the gun jammed while Jozefiak was shooting Hill, according to the affidavit, but police determined through interviews with Jozefiak that she had no prior experience with semiautomatic firearms or how to clear a malfunction from that type of weapon.
The evidence still being gathered right before the arrest, Cahill said, involved follow-up interviews and investigation of a steady stream of tips.
“For the most part, those interviews did not bear fruit from our perspective. But they were part of due diligence,” Cahill wrote in an email.
It was Michael Perkins’ terminal cancer — he died on Jan. 23, 2014 — that accounts for the final delay in his wife’s arrest. Perkins had been battling brain cancer for 10 years. Once it became clear that he would not survive, the State Police decided to wait until after his death before arresting Emily Perkins, authorities said.
Waiting to make an arrest until after Michael Perkins’ death was a “group decision,” Illingworth said, and was the first case he had ever been involved with in which police waited to make an arrest because of a suspect’s personal circumstances.
Michele Martinez Campbell, an associate professor of law at Vermont Law School, said it’s not unheard of for an attempted murder investigation to take two years. Martinez Campbell, who made it clear she was speaking from an outsider’s perspective, said a major question for investigators could have been Perkins’ mental state and whether she meant to shoot Jozefiak or if it was an accident as she asserted.
“Here it seems obvious that they knew who the perpetrator was, but they weren’t certain or didn’t have the evidence to prove if it was an intentional killing,” said Martinez Campbell, a former federal narcotics prosecutor in New York.
Martinez Campbell said she doesn’t know how long it took investigators to collect enough evidence, but she said she did find it somewhat unusual that prosecutors would wait to charge her until after Perkins’ husband’s death because those type of personal issues can usually be addressed through bail conditions.
But she also said that if there had been a very short period of time between when police felt they had enough evidence for an arrest and Michael Perkins’ death, then the decision about when to make an arrest is a judgment call, and waiting is a humane approach.
“You could arrest someone and then let them out on bail, but there is no rule that you have to,” Martinez Campbell said.
Cahill said it was a difficult decision to decide to wait to arrest Perkins, and State Police had to balance the potential risk to the public with accommodating Perkins’ family.
“During this time, the State Police were aware of Ms. Perkins’ activities and had the resources to protect specific individuals and the public, if necessary,” Cahill said in an email, noting that the delay related to Michael Perkins’ death was a matter of weeks, not years. The decision to delay Perkins’ arrest was made by the State Police, Cahill said, with legal advice provided by the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office. There is no statute of limitations on attempted murder.
Out of the Blue?
So much time elapsed since police initially interviewed Perkins that the arrest took her by surprise, according to her lawyer.
According to the police affidavit filed in Windsor Superior Court, the last time Perkins is noted as being interviewed in is Jan. 30, 2012, when she was represented by an attorney from Langrock, Sperry and Wool.
Devin McLaughlin, Perkins’ current attorney with the firm, said he’s not aware of Perkins being interviewed by State Police any other times besides what is already noted in the affidavit. The affidavit shows Perkins was interviewed six times , and Cahill said she was interviewed at least one time after that in March 2012.
“Nobody knew that they were waiting. Nobody knew that they were still actively investigating. At least we didn’t,” McLaughlin said. “We were not aware that the investigation was active or that potential prosecution was active. If you don’t hear from somebody for two years, you start to make assumptions that the investigation was inconclusive.”
Mark Hackett, Perkins’ father who lives in Brookfield, Vt., also said in a recent interview that relatives were aware Perkins was a suspect, but they were not expecting her arrest.
Hackett said he knew his daughter had been questioned by police, and the family was told by Perkins’ attorneys not to talk about the issue with anyone. Hackett said the last time he could recall Perkins’ being interviewed by police was 18 to 20 months ago.
“We were totally surprised by the arrest,” Hackett said. “We knew Emily had been questioned in January 2012. And we never talk ed about it with her.”
Perkins has been out on bail since late February, when her father put up his Brookfield, Vt., property to meet her $75,000 bail.
Perkins’ and her two girls, the older of whom is in kindergarten, are now living with her mother and stepfather, Peggy and David Ainsworth, at their farm in Royalton. Her conditions of release allow her to take her girls to school and leave on her own for medical and legal appointments. In all other cases, Perkins must remain in the presence of her mother if she leaves the house, said McLaughlin, her attorney.
“Emily is here with the girls and it’s made a lot of difference to them because they really missed their mom,” Peggy Ainsworth said.
Hackett said in an interview last month that the girls are doing “surprisingly well,” and said when Perkins was first released on bail and returned home in February, her daughters came down with a cold and shared it with her.
“The whole family is miserable, but at least they’re together,” Hackett said.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.