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Jim Kenyon: A Matter of Scruples in Perkins Trial

Published: 3/23/2016 4:54:47 PM
Modified: 3/23/2016 11:59:28 PM

When Emily Perkins took the witness stand Tuesday, she testified about an encounter she said she had with drug dealer Scott Hill on the day he was killed in November 2011.

According to Perkins’ account:

She went to Hill’s trailer on Dartt Hill Road in Bethel to complete a deal. She would give Hill a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol that belonged to her husband in exchange for five Percocets, the powerful prescription painkiller that goes for $40 a tablet on the street.

As the transaction took place in the trailer’s driveway, Hill pressed Perkins against her car, put his hand up her shirt and grabbed her breast. “I don’t make deals like this; you’re going to owe me a lot more than just a gun,” Perkins quoted Hill as saying.

When she got home, Perkins said she told her husband, Michael, what had happened. Michael Perkins, who was battling brain cancer, took matters into his own hands, she testified.

But prosecutors and Vermont State Police say it was Emily Perkins, not her husband, who killed Hill and left Emma Jozefiak, a young woman who was staying at the trailer, for dead with a bullet wound to the head. (Michael Perkins, 30, died in January 2014, and Emily Perkins was arrested two weeks later.)

In trying to prove its murder case against Emily Perkins, the prosecution has been put in an uncomfortable position: It maintains the sexual relationships between the 48-year-old Hill and the drug-addicted teenagers he was supplying prescription painkillers to were voluntary.

The prosecution has argued that Hill didn’t “force” the young women into their sexual encounters, and that Emily Perkins’ account therefore is not credible.

I have no idea what jurors might be thinking, but I have a tough time buying that one. Are people supposed to believe that Hill was above forcing himself on a female customer half his age?

In a conversation we had outside the courtroom during a break in the trial the other day, Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill acknowledged that Hill was no “Boy Scout.”

Hill was a convicted felon who made a living peddling prescription painkillers to kids barely out of high school. He brought young women along with him on “re-upping” trips to Rutland to buy 100 or so Percocets from his suppliers.

One of the women testified to trading sex with Hill’s suppliers for pills to support her drug habit. She said it was nothing Hill had proposed. He only wanted her in the car in case he was stopped by police. He figured cops would be less likely to thoroughly search a young woman.

Jozefiak, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, testified that her relationship with Hill was consensual.

I didn’t grasp why prosecutors thought that was an important point to make, until Perkins described for the jury Tuesday what Hill had said and done in his driveway.

The prosecution needed Jozefiak to discredit Perkins.

Last week, I wrote that Hill had made a habit of “preying on vulnerable teenage girls” and traded painkillers for sex. In the courthouse lobby, Jozefiak told me that she took exception to what I had written. She reiterated that her relationship with Hill was of her own free will.

I appreciated her candor. Jozefiak comes across as a strong young woman not afraid to speak her mind. She’s been through a lot. She survived the shooting — although she’s still dealing with impaired vision and mobility — and testified that she’s kicked her drug addiction. Because of her head injury, she has no recollection of the shooting. The last thing she remembers from that day is sitting down to play cribbage.

The absence of eyewitnesses to the shooting makes Emily Perkins’ version of what happened in the driveway all the more crucial. Her defense depends on getting the jury to believe she was being truthful Tuesday, after repeatedly lying to state police during its investigation of the shootings.

If the encounter with Hill didn’t take place as Perkins described, then her husband’s motive for going to the trailer no longer exists.

Which is why the prosecution needed Jozefiak and others to testify that forcing himself on young women wasn’t Hill’s style.

I didn’t know what to make of the prosecution’s argument, so I called Peggy O’Neil. She’s the executive director of WISE, a Lebanon nonprofit that has worked for 45 years with victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Was the prosecution giving an accurate portrayal of what was going on between Hill and the young women?

O’Neil hasn’t been following the trial, so I quickly filled her in.

The age difference between Hill and the women raises a red flag, she said. The fact that he was their source for drugs was another potentially telling factor. “Anyone who is addicted to a substance can be vulnerable to coercive behavior,” O’Neil said. “The addiction and their financial situation puts a powerful dynamic in play.

“People define relationships differently, and I don’t know about the specifics of this case. But it sounds like a mess all around.”

That’s probably one of the few things in this case that everyone can agree upon.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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