Family Witness Accounts Vary In Goat Trial
Cousin Says Suspect Tried to Run Car Off Road, Wife Says it Was Her
White River Junction — Family members of a man accused of paying a friend to kill a state game warden’s goats took the stand on Thursday, and their stories of events surrounding the alleged incident varied dramatically.
Defense attorney Peter Decato tried to use the inconsistencies to prove that his client, Nick Ashline, 35, of Hartland, did not pay Daniel Parry to kill one of game warden Stephen Majeski’s goats and seriously injure another.
In the second day of the trial, Ashline’s wife, Amy, took the stand, along with Ashline’s cousin, Kim Sweeney, and her husband, Kevin, who was with Ashline and Parry the night the goats were attacked in October 2011.
Ashline has been charged with three counts of accessory to a crime and two counts of obstructing justice. He faces up to 29 years in prison if convicted.
One of the obstruction charges stems from an incident in March during which Kim Sweeney alleges that Ashline swerved in front of her car and forced her to drive into a ditch.
However, when Decato called Ashline’s wife, Amy, to the stand, she told a different story. Amy Ashline said her husband was in Newport Center, Vt., that day and she was the one driving the family’s truck. She said she remembers approaching Kim Sweeney’s car and driving past her.
“There was nothing abnormal about that drive,” Amy Ashline said.
Sweeney also told the jurors that in late 2011, she was called to a gathering at a family member’s home where Nick and Amy Ashline were present. She said she was told at the gathering that police officers were looking to arrest Ashline for allegedly paying Parry for injuring and killing the goats.
Sweeney said she also learned that night that her husband, Kevin, had been in the truck with Ashline on Oct. 29, the night the goats were attacked.
According to court documents and witness statements, Nick Ashline and several friends were drinking beers in Ashline’s garage. Ashline allegedly offered to pay Parry if he killed Majeski’s goats. A group of five men then got into Ashline’s truck and dropped Parry off near Majeski’s home.
During cross-examination, Decato questioned whether Sweeney told family members at the meeting that they should lie and fabricate what happened to keep her husband out of trouble.
“No, I did not,” Sweeney said.
“And you’re under oath?” Decato said.
“Yes,” Sweeney said.
Again, Amy Ashline’s testimony directly contradicted her cousin’s.
Amy Ashline said that Sweeney was very upset when she found out her husband was in the truck with Ashline and Parry when they drove to Majeski’s house.
“She wanted us all to lie and say that Kevin was not involved,” Amy Ashline testified. “She wanted to make sure that Kevin’s name was not mentioned.”
James Punger, who is engaged to Nick Ashline’s sister, also took the witness stand yesterday and said the same thing, that Sweeney told everyone to lie.
“I said I wasn’t going to lie,” said Punger, who also testified Wednesday that he never heard any conversations on Oct. 29 related to Nick Ashline paying Parry to kill the goats.
Many of the men who are witnesses had been drinking heavily the night of the killing. For instance, Parry said in court on Wednesday that he had been drinking that night and had taken several pain pills.
Colby Bowen, who testified Wednesday, said he also had been drinking that night, and that he heard Ashline tell Parry that he would pay him, but did not witness an exchange of money.
Alcohol was also a factor in Kevin Sweeney’s story. In an earlier deposition, Sweeney said he was so drunk that he passed out in the back of the truck and didn’t remember any of the night’s activities.
But on Thursday, he told a different story. Kevin Sweeney said the night the goats were attacked, Ashline asked Parry if he wanted to make some money.
When asked by Decato why he changed his story, Kevin Sweeney alluded to the bad blood that has developed between the witnesses in the case.
“I don’t like the fact that he tried to run my wife off the road,” Sweeney said. “I’m ashamed of lying like that and I wish I could take it back.”
Decato questioned the reliability of Kevin Sweeney’s story.
“I just can’t tell what’s the lie,” Decato said.
When it was Assistant Attorney General Cathy Norman’s turn to question Kevin Sweeney again, she asked flat out, “Are you telling the truth today?
“Yes,” he said.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.