Judge rejects South Royalton man’s motion to withdraw guilty plea in wife’s murder

Frank Sanville, of South Royalton, Vt., glances back at family members while taking a seat at the defendant's table with his attorney Robert Sussman at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on July 27, 2022. Sanville pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the March 2018 death of his wife Wanda Sanville and aggravated assault with a weapon after pointing his rifle at brother-in-law Todd Hosmer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Frank Sanville, of South Royalton, Vt., glances back at family members while taking a seat at the defendant's table with his attorney Robert Sussman at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on July 27, 2022. Sanville pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the March 2018 death of his wife Wanda Sanville and aggravated assault with a weapon after pointing his rifle at brother-in-law Todd Hosmer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Geoff Hansen

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-28-2024 6:15 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A South Royalton man’s bid to withdraw his guilty plea for shooting and killing his estranged wife in front of her nephew and brother has been nixed by a Vermont state judge.

Frank Sanville failed to show “that he did not understand the terms of the plea agreement or that his guilty pleas were in any other way involuntarily,” Windsor County Superior Court Judge Heather Gray wrote in a terse, four-page decision issued on Monday.

In turning down the petition Sanville filed last year — 11 months after his change of plea hearing in 2022 — Gray said that the effort to withdraw the guilty plea revealed nothing further than that Sanville had “changed his mind” about the deal he cut with prosecutors to avoid casting his fate in a jury trial.

Sanville, 76, pleaded guilty in 2022 to second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting death of Wanda Sanville at her home on Happy Hallow Road in South Royalton in 2018.

Originally charged with first-degree murder, Sanville’s plea agreement on the lesser charges exposed him to a potential prison sentence of up to 24 years.

Sanville is still awaiting his final sentence, as he filed the motion to withdraw his plea before a sentencing hearing could be held.

During a court hearing to withdraw his guilty plea in December, Sanville told the judge that he had not understood the terms of the sentence explained to him by his lawyer and that he thought he was eligible for release after only four years in prison. Four years was also roughly equivalent to the period of time he had been held without bail between the shooting and when he signed the plea agreement.

Gray was unmoved by Sanville’s argument, pointing out that the case record amply demonstrated that Sanville had affirmed under questioning in open court and signed documents that he had discussed, understood and accepted the terms of his plea deal with his attorney, and could provide no evidence to the contrary.

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Sanville “does not assert his innocence in his request to withdraw his plea, rather he asserts only that he thought he would get out of jail in four years and did not appreciate that he could spend longer in jail,” Gray wrote, and “did not provide any specific evidence why or how he might have come to this belief.”

Sanville had said in his motion to withdraw his plea that he only came to understand the terms of his plea agreement after talking with a fellow inmate following his change of plea hearing in 2022.

The sentence for a second-degree murder conviction in Vermont is 20 years to life. Under the plea bargain, prosecutors “capped” what they would seek at 24 years with the defense expected to argue for lesser time at a future sentencing hearing.

Any time that Sanville has spent incarcerated since 2018 will be credited toward the sentence imposed by the court.

Sanville is currently incarcerated at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., according to the Department of Corrections’ records.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.