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Kidnapping defendant wants to search victim’s phone, says incident was consensual

  • Everett Simpson. (Police photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2019 10:14:55 PM
Modified: 12/11/2019 10:14:46 PM

BURLINGTON — The Vermont felon accused of kidnapping a New Hampshire woman and her 4-year-old son nearly a year ago and raping the woman at a White River Junction hotel is claiming in court filings that the encounter was “consensual” and challenging the accuser’s credibility.

Prosecutors eventually consented to the defense’s request for access to more of the woman’s smartphone records this week, though they initially argued that a search would violate her privacy rights.

Everett Simpson, 42, is facing federal kidnapping charges alleging that he forced the woman, then 23, and her son into the woman’s car outside the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester on Jan. 5 and drove them to the Upper Valley and across state lines.

According to authorities, Simpson later raped the woman at the Comfort Inn in White River Junction before fleeing in her car.

While the kidnapping charge is a federal one, the sex assault charge is being handled at the state level in Windsor Superior Court.

Simpson was arrested in Upper Darby, Pa., after a manhunt and car chase.

Prosecutors have said that the woman was a stranger to Simpson at the time of the alleged abduction, but his attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Dave McColgin, claimed in court records that the two had planned the meeting over the internet.

In a federal motion filed in late October, McColgin said that prosecutors have already given him access to texts on the woman’s phone from Jan 2 to Jan. 6, but he requested full access to her phone in the form of a “physical memory extraction.”

The extraction would include texts sent to and from her phone before Jan. 2, as well as any dating apps and files that may have been on her phone at the time of the incident.

“(The woman’s) communications over her phone will be material to demonstrating that her encounter with Mr. Simpson was consensual, and it may provide evidence that she has had similar encounters with other men in the past,” McColgin wrote.

He also argued that the physical extraction may show the woman deleted apps or other evidence from her phone, which he asserted would call into question her credibility. A physical memory extraction “performs a bit-by-bit copy of the entire contents of the flash memory of a mobile device,” including any data that’s been deleted, according to a Dec. 6 affidavit filed by computer expert Anthony Martino on behalf of the defense.

But in a Nov. 7 objection, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Lasher called the request “inappropriate” and said that giving access to the records would violate the woman’s privacy, because her phone contains everything from her physical address to family contacts to financial records.

Allowing the defense, and Simpson especially, to see her full phone records would be a violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which stipulates that crime victims have the right to be “reasonably protected from the accused” and treated with “dignity and privacy,” according to the objection. Lasher said it could compromise the woman’s “already damaged sense of integrity and security” and may give Simpson or his friends the ability to contact and influence the victim, Lasher said.

The attorney also took issue with McColgin’s reason for requesting the physical extraction, saying that the claims about deleted apps and texts amounted to “unfounded speculation” and “conjecture.”

“The defendant has not offered any concrete indication … that additional data from the victim’s phone would be material to the preparation of his defense,” Lasher wrote.

McColgin contended that the records would provide valuable evidence in the form of Simpson’s own statements.

“Mr. Simpson has informed counsel that he communicated with (the woman) before meeting up with her, and that these communications were through an internet site or dating application,” McColgin wrote in a Dec. 6 response, adding that the phone data is integral to the defense’s case.

McColgin also suggested implementing a protective order to ensure that Simpson be barred from seeing private information on the woman’s phone. The order would restrict access to the phone to McColgin or a defense expert.

Following a hearing on the motions Monday, prosecutors agreed to allow an expert from the defense examine a “portion of the data on the phone” under FBI supervision, Kraig Laporte, a representative with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Burlington said in an email Wednesday.

LaPorte said prosecutors likely would file a petition for the protective order.

On top of the federal kidnapping charges, Simpson is facing state charges in Windsor Superior Court of kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent in connection with the Jan. 5 incident.

He has not entered a plea — or been assigned a defense attorney — in the state case because he’s still in federal custody, according to Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill.

Once the federal case is completed, Windsor County prosecutors can move forward with the state’s case, Cahill said.

Simpson, who has at least six convictions on his record, was being held by the Vermont Department of Corrections prior to the alleged kidnappings on unrelated charges of vehicle theft, pursuit and aggravated assault on a trooper in Lyndonville.

He was released from prison and sent to Valley Vista, a substance-abuse treatment facility in Bradford, Vt., on Jan. 3, but he left the facility the next day and traveled to Manchester, where authorities say the kidnapping occurred.

In March, the woman, Merrimack County resident Celia Roessler, issued a statement through her lawyer that said she and her son would “embrace the challenges” they endured and grow stronger from them. She also filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont and Valley Vista, saying that the facility was supposed to immediately notify Vermont State Police if Simpson left, but that officials there failed to do so for at least 90 minutes, the lawsuit alleges.

“It was only because of Valley Vista and/or Vermont’s ongoing and combined failure to do the bare minimum that Mr. Simpson’s zone of danger reached to (the) plaintiffs,” the suit alleged.

The status of Roessler’s lawsuit may be about to change. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office, along with Roessler’s lawyer, asked the court last month to dismiss Vermont from the case on a voluntary basis, according to a statement from Kate Gallagher of the Attorney General’s office.

Anthony Carr, an attorney representing Roessler in the civil suit, declined to comment Wednesday.

A message left for Roessler was not returned.

U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions III set Simpson’s criminal case for March 23.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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