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Charge: Thetford Man Sought to Kill

Chelsea More than two years after he was arrested, a Thetford man was charged with attempted murder this week for allegedly firing several gunshots at men who drove onto his property in the culmination of a months-long domestic feud.

The slow-moving prosecution of Thomas Q. Berecz, 43, took another twist inside Orange Superior Court after a prosecutor decided to dramatically up the stakes: Berecz, who had been facing an aggravated assault charge for the September 2010 incident, now faces up to life in prison if convicted of a shooting that he claims was in self defense.

Berecz (pronounced “barracks”) claims he was justified in firing 30-30 rifle shots into a car — occupied by men with whom he had been feuding — that sped menacingly up his driveway, and plans to argue that he fired in self defense. Though the car was riddled with bullets, no one was seriously injured: James Moses Jr. 21, suffered a bullet wound to his leg, while his brother, Kyle Moses, was unharmed.

It was unclear what prompted the decision to file the new charge, though several prosecutors have been assigned the case.

Washington County State’s Attorney Tom Kelly, who is currently handling the case after Orange County prosecutors declared a conflict of interest, participated in the hearing via telephone and did not respond to a phone message seeking comment afterward.

Defense attorney Dan Sedon criticized the decision to file the attempted murder charge, saying that authorities, two years after their investigation, cannot prove that Berecz intended to kill anyone. Sedon said that he will file motions seeking to have the charge dismissed for lack of evidence.

“Our position on the attempted murder charge is that it lacks probable cause,” Sedon said during a court hearing on Tuesday. “The thrust of the objection is that this case has been in discovery for two years, and it’s not as if after more than two years of looking the state finally found evidence that Mr. Berecz had an intent to kill. They just decided to file the charge.”

Sedon declined to comment after the hearing.

While Berecz faces a serious felony, his father Fred Berecz, who fired gunshots from a .38 pistol at the car alongside his son that night, struck a plea deal several months ago in which he pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless endangerment and spent 30 days on a work crew. The Bereczs told police they fired nine shots total.

The shooting was preceded by a bitter feud involving Berecz, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s new boyfriend and his family.

Berecz filed for divorce from his wife Diane in June 2010, and the couple lobbed bitter accusations at each other. Berecz moved across the street to live with Fred, who runs Trader Fred’s shop out of his home. Diane stayed in the home, and was soon joined by Jim Moses Sr., with whom she had a “romantic” relationship, and Moses’ son, Jim Moses Jr., according to court documents.

Diane repeatedly called police departments, asking them to arrest Berecz for various allegations — most of which appeared unsubstantiated — and sought a restraining order against him. The estranged couple also traded allegations of infidelity.

As the spat continued, Bercez accused the Moses men, now living across the street from him, of “threatening and harassing,” him, and shoving him to the ground and threatening to kill him in front of his young son.

Scared of a possible attack, Thomas and Fred Berecz said they parked a vehicle across one of their two driveway on Sept. 13, 2010, hoping to block any possible intruders. A few hours later, the Bereczs’ said they saw a car approach their makeshift roadblock, turn around squealing its tires and then drive across the street to Diane Berecz’ home. A short time later, the same vehicle “came roaring,” up the driveway, according to defense filings in court.

Thomas and Fred Berecz opened fire.

The prosecution has proven as convoluted as the incident itself.

Orange County State’s Attorney Will Porter, citing an “irretrievable breakdown in relations between the victims, their extended family and the Orange County State’s Attorneys Office,” withdrew from the case in May 2011, and handed it to a deputy in Kelly’s office. The deputy handled it for several months, before leaving his job and giving it to Kelly.

Meanwhile, the cases was transferred to Washington County Superior Court, only to have a judge recently send it back to Orange County.

Authorities have yet to turn over all evidence in the case — Kelly said he is still awaiting a report from the state crime lab’s firearms expert — and lawyers still have yet to interview some witnesses.

The case is tentatively set for trial in early 2013, but attorneys indicated further delay may be necessary.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

CORRECTION

Fred Berecz accepted a plea agreement in 2012 in which he pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless endangerment and served 30 days on a work crew in relation to a 2010 incident in which prosecutors said he and his son shot at an occupied car in their driveway. Berecz's plea agreement and sentencing were incorrect in an earlier version of this story.