×

South Royalton Murder Raises Questions About Furlough

  • Frank Sanville, of South Royalton, Vt., walks into the courtroom before his arraignment on first-degree murder and four lesser charges at the Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on March 16, 2018. Sanville pleaded not guilty. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Wanda Sanville in an undated family photograph. (Family photograph)

  • A Hartford, Vt., police officer keeps her eye on an area along Happy Hollow Road in South Royalton, Vt., on March 4, 2018. Police were searching for Frank Sanville, who was involved in a shooting on the road. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Sanville home on Happy Hollow Road in South Royalton, Vt., on April 25, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, May 05, 2018

Royalton — When state troopers found Frank Sanville hiding in a South Royalton barn on March 4 and took him into custody on suspicion of fatally shooting his estranged wife, Wanda Sanville, in front of her brother and a young child, it’s safe to say he was well known to law enforcement.

Three months earlier, Sanville, 70, had been charged with aggravated domestic assault for allegedly punching Wanda Sanville, 48, and knocking her to the floor of her Happy Hollow Road home, the same place where she was shot to death.

That was the second time Sanville had been charged with assaulting Wanda. He was convicted of a domestic assault charge in 2012 and, in the same year, had his probation revoked when he was accused of attacking her another time.

In fact, since 2004, Sanville has been convicted of a series of crimes, including lewd behavior, assault and disorderly conduct.

Moreover, prior to Frank Sanville’s arraignment for first-degree murder on March 16 — at which he pleaded not guilty — family members said they had expressed their fears about Wanda’s safety to probation officials but that no action was taken. Todd Hosmer, Wanda’s brother, said that he was concerned enough about the threat posed by Sanville that he slept at her house the night before the murder.

“He kept threatening her on the phone every week, every day,” Hosmer told a Valley News reporter right after the murder. “Probation, parole (officers) didn’t do anything about it.”

Although Sanville had pleaded guilty to domestic assault less than two weeks before the murder, he was not sentenced to serve time in prison. He was sentenced to furlough, meaning he was serving his sentence in the community under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. A furlough sentence is regarded as providing the highest level of supervision outside of a correctional facility.

“They should have kept a better eye on everything,” said Maggie Sanville, Frank’s sister. “(Wanda) was a good person. She didn’t deserve to die.”

To whatever extent the system failed, state officials say, it highlights larger systemic problems rather than particular failures in this case. They note that it can be hard to secure convictions in domestic assault cases, that the vast majority of people who are convicted of domestic violence are eventually released back into the community and that the state lacks the tools for predicting who among those released pose mortal threats to others.

“It is easy to point fingers at the state or system,” said Bill Soule, district manager of the Hartford Probation and Parole Office. “… We support thousands of people who come through this office. … I have had three commit murder. I don’t know if those numbers are good or bad, and I understand the community and people impacted are going to expect us to do a better job.”

A Difficult Case

Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill believes the furlough sentence given to Sanville was about the best the state could do with the cards it was dealt.

In December, while Sanville was on probation after pleading guilty to grand larceny and identity theft, he was charged with assaulting Wanda at their Happy Hollow Road home. A judge ordered Sanville held without bail, and the state formally charged him with second-degree aggravated domestic assault.

The case appeared strong at first, according to court documents.

Wanda called state police on Dec. 2 to report the assault. She told Trooper Joseph Pregent, who responded to their home, that Sanville had knocked her down, according to Pregent’s affidavit.

But that affidavit told another story, too: Wanda feared for her life, telling the trooper “she did not know if she wanted to make a written statement because when he got out of jail she was going to get beaten again.”

Wanda waffled in her answers when the trooper asked her what happened, saying on one occasion that maybe Sanville had hit her by accident. When the trooper insisted she be truthful, Wanda acknowledged that she fell down because Frank hit her.

Pregent arrested Sanville that afternoon.

Sanville remained in jail until a plea deal was reached in the case on Feb. 20. He pleaded guilty to an amended domestic assault charge and started his furlough sentence that day.

Twelve days later, he allegedly killed Wanda.

While Cahill initially thought he had a strong case against Sanville, doubts surfaced during the pretrial process. Wanda, after telling the trooper that she had been assaulted, later told attorneys in Cahill’s office that no assault had taken place, something domestic violence advocates say isn’t unique to this case.

“We did not take those statements at face value,” Cahill said, “but what we had to account for is the fact that domestic violence cases with uncooperative complainants tend not to do well.”

Wanda had “extensive” communication with a victim’s advocate in his office, too, and in a statement, “she described how she sustained those injuries from an accident in the house that is unrelated to Frank,” Cahill said.

Proceeding to trial in a case with no other witnesses and a victim who wasn’t going to take the stand to tell a version of events that matched the state’s charge likely would have resulted in an acquittal, Cahill said.

If that had happened, Sanville could have been released. (The probation violation would have remained; it ultimately was wrapped into the plea agreement.)

“You have to play the cards that you have,” Cahill said. “We, from an evidentiary perspective, weren’t holding four aces.”

The state then focused on a plea agreement.

Sanville’s public defender, Sandra Nelson, filed a referral to the state Department of Corrections to have Sanville considered for a one- to three-year preapproved furlough sentence. Assistant State’s Attorney Glenn Barnes agreed to that proposal.

Under a preapproved furlough sentence, the Department of Corrections reviews a case to determine if furlough is appropriate based on a number of factors, including whether a proposed residence is a suitable living situation. In addition, DOC staff perform two assessments. The first determines if the level of supervision needed by the offender is high enough to warrant being put in the furlough program. The second determines a person’s needs that should be addressed through programming. Those needs, or “identified risk areas,” are then outlined in a report, which is sent back to the court.

The department’s two-page report, written by Heather Waterbury of the Hartford Probation and Parole Office, identified violence, attitude, family relations and substance abuse as the risk categories to be addressed through programming. Programs are held at the Probation and Parole Office, and an offender typically attends group meetings twice a week for an hour and a half, Soule said.

The programming is intended to “reduce the offender’s risk to reoffend,” according to the Vermont Agency of Human Services Department of Corrections’ sentencing options manual. Part of the target population for the program is “domestic abuse offenders with a history of domestic violence,” the manual states.

Soule declined to say whether Sanville attended sessions before he allegedly killed Wanda. Typically, he said, an offender attends programming within the first week of starting a pre-approved furlough sentence.

Waterbury rejected Sanville’s request to reside at the Happy Hollow Road home because of his relationship with Wanda and his lack of transportation, among other factors. She recommended he reside either at Hartford Dismas House or in transitional housing through the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center.

Waterbury noted in her report that it wasn’t clear whether Sanville “fully agrees with the plan or understands what it entails, despite numerous conversations with him.”

Windsor Superior Court Judge Timothy Tomasi approved the agreement, and Sanville was released after being sentenced to one to three years on furlough. (He formally received a two- to 12-month sentence on the domestic violence conviction. The remainder accounted for the violation of probation, Cahill said.)

Sanville moved into an apartment in White River Junction, and was living under several conditions imposed by the Department of Corrections, including all of the standard conditions governing offenders on furlough, such as a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

He also had special conditions, which stated he couldn’t have contact with Wanda, any child under the age of 16 or co-defendants and victims listed in the affidavits. He also was ordered not to abuse or harass Wanda or juveniles.

According to affidavits filed in support of the first-degree murder and other charges, Sanville on March 4 arranged for a ride out to South Royalton through friends Howard Capen and Junice Thurston, who first drove him to his sister’s house on Route 110 and then dropped him off close to his wife’s home. According to the affidavits, Sanville entered Wanda’s home, shot her through the neck with a single-shot .22-caliber rifle and then pointed the gun at Todd Hosmer. Hosmer wrestled the weapon from Sanville, hit him three times with the rifle butt and then left Sanville, seemingly unconscious on the floor. Hosmer then exited the house with a young boy who witnessed the murder, according to the affidavit. Police later found Sanville hiding in a barn less than half a mile from the scene, according to the affidavit.

Officials haven’t said where they believe Sanville got the gun.

Furlough Oversight

Soule, the Hartford Probation and Parole district manager, said his office “exceeded” normal standards for having contact with Sanville, but the conditions document Soule provided to the Valley News doesn’t shed light on what Sanville’s day-to-day schedule looked like. For example, one generic condition states, “I will reside at my approved residence as directed by my assigned probation officer or designee.” Any notes the probation officer took to elaborate on any conditions aren’t subject to release, Soule said.

However, Soule said, Sanville could move about during the day at his free will, unless he had another obligation, like a scheduled class or community service.

“We certainly can’t monitor them 24/7,” Soule said. “These are difficult cases and it is difficult to monitor them when you factor in the number of cases and (geographics).”

In the days, and perhaps weeks, before Sanville allegedly killed Wanda, she expressed concerns about her safety, according to relatives. Soule said he couldn’t comment on whether he was aware that Wanda or her family members expressed safety concerns. Cahill said he had heard second-hand that Wanda had expressed concerns, but wouldn’t elaborate, citing the pending murder trial.

Speaking generally, Soule said, if his office received information about a threat, staff — and law enforcement, depending on the type of threat — would investigate it. That information would then be documented.

Wanda’s sister, Tina Swasey, of South Royalton, hadn’t seen her sister in a few months before the murder, but said that Wanda was afraid to speak up about her abuse for fear of retribution.

“She was afraid he would come back at her, and, I mean, look what happened,” Swasey said.

Both Gail Shute, who is married to one of Wanda’s cousins, and Maggie Sanville, Sanville’s sister, said Sanville should have been incarcerated or been more closely monitored by the DOC.

“He had been calling and threatening her that week,” Shute said recently.

Perhaps he could have been on electronic monitoring, or had a condition where he couldn’t leave his apartment without supervision, Maggie Sanville said.

The family has retained attorney Daniel Sedon, of Chelsea, to look into the matter.

Electronic monitoring, such as an ankle bracelet, wouldn’t have prevented the shooting, Soule said, although he noted though that it would have helped authorities find Sanville after the incident.

The Hartford Probation and Parole Office currently has a dozen officers, supervising about 550 offenders, including about 50 on furlough. The officers who manage high-risk cases currently operate below the maximum caseload of 45, Soule said. They also have community correctional officers who help out, “knocking on doors, checking on them.”

The best option to protect victims is incarceration, Soule said. But that isn’t always realistic or obtainable. Second best is a preapproved furlough sentence, which gives Soule’s staff the ability to set whatever conditions they see fit. If someone violates those conditions, the offender can be brought straight to jail, and could have to serve the remainder of an underlying sentence. That would have been anywhere between one to three years for Sanville.

Furlough can be preferable to a straight probationary sentence, Soule said, because offenders who violate probation don’t often face immediate consequences. They are charged anew, and it can take months to work through the court process.

“There are a number of repeat domestic violence offenders under community supervision rather than incarceration with similar backgrounds as Mr. Sanville,” Soule said. “This is not a criticism of the criminal justice system; it is simply a reality of a flawed system that needs to be scrutinized and changed to keep our communities safe, factoring in that almost all offenders will return to the community someday.”

The flaw in the system, he said, is that “our prosecutors have huge caseloads and it is challenging to get a criminal conviction when you have limited resources (and/or) time. We need to continue to explore laws that protect individuals against domestic violence and provide the necessary resources to investigate and prosecute.”

One improvement, Soule said, might be to develop more evidence-based methods to change or analyze offenders’ behavior, which is something the DOC has been looking into.

It is especially true because no person convicted on a straight domestic violence charge will ever be sentenced for life. All offenders eventually are released.

“Domestic violence cases are the most unpredictable cases by far that we are trying to manage,” Soule said. “We use the tools that we have with professional, sound judgment, but they are very unpredictable.”

History, AssessmentsAnd Programming

There were 20 homicides in Vermont in 2016, and 30 percent, or six, of them were domestic violence-related, according to statistics compiled by Vermont’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission, which was created in 2002 to collect data and perform reviews of domestic violence-related fatalities in the state.

In addition, the commission has been tasked with making policy recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

From 1994 to 2016, there were 279 homicides in Vermont, and 49 percent, or 137, of them were domestic violence-related, the commission reports. The majority of those homicides were committed using a firearm.

Fatalities aside, 79 police agencies responded to 3,491 incidents involving domestic violence in 2016. Also that year, the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence received 19,816 calls into its hotline.

Within the state Department of Corrections, there is a general risk-assessment tool used to test an offender’s likelihood of committing any type of crime. There also are more specialized assessments, including one that seeks to determine a person’s risk of committing a specific crime, such as another domestic violence-related offense, according to DOC’s Director of Program Services Kim Bushey.

What the DOC doesn’t currently have is a lethality risk-assessment tool that could assess the likelihood that a domestic violence offender would kill or seriously injure his victim.

Those types of tools, or the ones Bushey is familiar with, are geared more toward police use, or the person who first comes in contact with a victim. Those tools best assess the immediate risk of death or violence, but “don’t do a good job of saying, when you are outside of this imminent risk of harm, now what’s the risk?” she said.

Bushey said she wouldn’t be opposed to exploring other tools, like a lethality risk-assessment tool, but she said she doesn’t know if applying one in a situation like this would have provided the department with any additional information that could have helped prevent a murder.

But if prosecutors had that information, perhaps they could push for more stringent conditions, such as cognitive therapy to try and change a person’s behavior, said Cahill, the state’s attorney. Even if there isn’t anything else the state can do, Cahill said, “why would you not want to know that information?”

Cahill said he would like to see the DOC implement a lethality screen.

“Isn’t the most important question, ‘are you going to kill your victim?’ Not, ‘are you going to commit some random criminal offense?’,” Cahill said. “I think what we need to focus on is how exactly we identify and manage furloughees who pose a particular risk of violence toward an identifiable victim.”

Both Soule and Cahill said furlough, a sentence that is meant to provide offenders an orderly transition into the community with supervision and structure, will always play an role in the criminal justice system.

Intervention

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program, a 26- to 40-week program that follows a state-approved curriculum, is Windsor County’s primary program for domestic violence offenders. The three things emphasized are accountability, empathy and effects on children, said Trish LaPlante, its director.

LaPlante currently has 24 men enrolled in the program. (Some furloughees attend classes offered at the Probation and Parole Office.) In 10 years, LaPlante said, she has had only one man reoffend.

LaPlante didn’t recognize Frank Sanville’s name as being someone she has worked with.

The county also offers services through the Clara Martin Center’s Domestic Violence Accountability Program.

Heather Holter, the coordinator for the Vermont Council on Domestic Violence, said the state currently lacks funding to expand programming in the state, something she has been working to rectify.

In addition to a shortage of funds, she said, the state lacks resources to take a step back and take a look at how the system is working in Vermont.

As long as domestic violence homicides are happening in the state, “then there is something we are not doing right,” Holter said. “We haven’t figured out how to create a system that adequately both holds offenders accountable and prevents them from reoffending.”

Both Cahill and Abby Tassel, assistant director at WISE, a Lebanon-based nonprofit that aids victims of gender-based violence, believe the criminal justice system is particularly ill-equipped to handle domestic violence.

WISE supports between 800 and 900 domestic violence victims annually, many of whom come forward and say they are fearful that their abuser is going to kill them, Tassel said.

Many don’t seek help because it is too dangerous for them. And those who do sometimes recant their statements, much like Wanda Sanville did. There are several reasons for that, including that some fear what will happen if they testify.

“Unless the perpetrator is locked up for the rest of their lives, they feel as though it will just put them (and their friends and family) in more danger,” Tassel said.

Some victims, or survivors, still love their perpetrator and hope their relationship can be changed.

For Tassel, success occurs when victims feel supported and when perpetrators are held accountable in a way that may actually change their behavior.

“The legal system was not created for these types of crimes,” she said. “There is a question of, ‘Is this a system that is going to be most helpful for survivors and to really end the violence?’ ”

Cahill, the state’s attorney, notes that the current system protects a defendant’s rights and forces the state to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. That often means putting a victim on the stand.

“This process can and does escalate tensions between the batterer and the victim,” Cahill said.

“And in that sense, the system fails many domestic violence victims because it increases the anger of the batterer without providing much in the way of protection for the victim’s safety.”

Even if prosecutors had forced Wanda to testify against her wishes during a trial and a jury convicted Frank Sanville and he went to prison, there would have been a day that he got out, Cahill said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.