Suspect in Royalton Man’s Disappearance Seeks Rehab

  • Austin Colson and his girlfriend Katie Grizzaffi in an undated photograph. Colson was last seen Jan. 11, 2018. (Courtesy Katie Grizzaffi)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2018 12:07:26 AM
Modified: 3/28/2018 2:45:53 PM

Burlington — A 38-year-old White River Junction man who prosecutors have identified as a suspect in the January disappearance of a Royalton man is seeking pretrial release from prison to attend a drug rehabilitation facility in the Upper Valley.

Richard Whitcomb, who a judge on Feb. 15 ordered detained pending the outcome of his federal firearms case, has filed a motion in U.S. District Court to reopen the detention hearing and have a judge release him for residential treatment at Valley Vista in Bradford, Vt., according to court documents.

“One of the chief reasons apparently underlying this court’s initial decision to detain Mr. Whitcomb is his history of heroin and cocaine abuse. That substance abuse is integral to the charges,” Whitcomb’s attorney, Bradley Stetler, said in a motion filed on Thursday.

Whitcomb has been federally indicted on two counts. He has been charged with unlawful possession of a .32-caliber pistol as a convicted felon, and with carrying and using that pistol during the distribution of cocaine in January.

Court documents indicate Whitcomb allegedly used the gun as collateral in a cocaine deal with Austin Colson, a 19-year-old Royalton man who went missing on Jan. 11. Police found the firearm at Whitcomb’s home, court documents indicate. Authorities are still searching for Colson, whose 20th birthday was last month.

Colson’s mother previously has said her son was supposed to collect scrap metal with Whitcomb on the day he vanished. Whitcomb has denied involvement in Colson’s disappearance, and although prosecutors say he is a suspect, Magistrate Judge John Conroy at the February detention hearing said he was unable to find Whitcomb responsible for Colson’s disappearance.

“Admittedly, the charges are serious but the alleged use of this firearm, (a collector’s item), as temporary collateral for a small drug transaction … does not present the same risk of harm as the use of a weapon while drug dealing or in a manner to intimate or threaten others,” Stetler said in the motion. “It facilitated a drug crime, but it did not facilitate a threat of violence.”

At the February detention hearing, Conroy deemed Whitcomb a danger to the community and cited his past conduct and criminal record, which includes a felony conviction for aggravated domestic assault in 2003, as well as past substance abuse issues and court order violations.

Stetler contends there are conditions that can be put in place to address a public safety risk. After he completes the program at Valley Vista, a judge could impose conditions of release, such as mandated drug testing and location monitoring, Stetler wrote.

Whitcomb and his wife, Sara, live on Connecticut River Road in White River Junction. Sara Whitcomb suffers from multiple sclerosis and relies on her husband for rides and help with childcare, according to the defense’s motion.

“With such conditions, and with a stable residence and family connections, any risk to community safety is minimized,” he said.

Stetler seeks a reconsideration of the detention order. A judge has not ruled on the motion, or scheduled a hearing on the matter, according to the court docket.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Fuller, who is prosecuting the case, hadn’t filed a response as of Tuesday afternoon.

In his court filing, Stetler said he has tried to obtain consent from prosecutors, but “that consent was not given.”

Fuller, through U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Craig LaPorte, declined to comment on her stance as well as whether she plans to file a written response.

Speaking generally, LaPorte said a judge has the option to address the motion in writing or hold a hearing for oral arguments.

Valley Vista has a bed available beginning on Thursday, according to a letter written to Stetler by Valley Vista Admissions Coordinator Sasha Emerson, a document that is contained in court filings. Just how long Whitcomb would stay at the facility would be determined during intake, Emerson said in the letter.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at or 603-727-3248

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