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Suspect in Austin Colson’s disappearance seeks trial relocation for fraud case



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 07, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A 39-year-old White River Junction man who has been listed in federal court documents as a suspect in Austin Colson’s disappearance asked a Windsor Superior Court judge on Tuesday to move his unrelated home improvement fraud case to another courthouse, saying he can’t receive a fair and impartial trial in Windsor County.

Richard Whitcomb Jr., who also is facing federal firearms charges in Burlington, says prospective jurors in Windsor County will have heard through the media allegations that Whitcomb is a suspect in Colson’s homicide and engaged in a drug and gun transaction with the 19-year-old Colson, defense attorney Bradley Stetler told Judge Timothy Tomasi during a hearing on Whitcomb’s motion to change the venue of the fraud case.

“It’s pervasive. It’s over 14 months. It’s many, many articles and it deals with details of those cases: guns, drugs, murder...” Stetler said. “All of this is completely irrelevant to what the jury in this (fraud) case will hear. It will be very difficult to unring that bell.”

People in other parts of the state have less of an interest and may not have heard of any of the allegations, improving Whitcomb’s chance for a fair trial, Stetler added.

However, Assistant Windsor County Attorney Ward Goodenough said that isn’t necessarily the case, in part, because television media from across Vermont has followed Whitcomb’s cases.

“In today’s era of press coverage, even if it is one print article from a regional newspaper, that can still be accessed online,” Goodenough said.

The judicial system has in place safeguards to help weed out jurors who may show signs of prejudice and that system should work during jury selection if and when Whitcomb takes the fraud case to trial, he said.

“The state doesn’t believe that the defendant has met their burden, that there is any clear evidence of impossibility to a fair trial in this county,” Goodenough told the judge.

Tomasi took the matter under advisement. It is unclear when he will rule.

Whitcomb pleaded not guilty to one felony count of home improvement fraud in June. A judge released him on a $5,000 unsecured appearance bond. He is accused of cashing a $3,000 check to build a deck for a Hartford man and never following through with the job, police said at the time.

Whitcomb, who was initially held without bail in his federal case, has pleaded not guilty to two federal firearms counts. One charge alleges the unlawful possession of a .32-caliber semiautomatic handgun as a convicted felon in January, while the second felony charge alleges that the .32-caliber pistol was used as collateral in a cocaine deal with Colson in January 2018.

Colson, a Royalton resident, went missing in January 2018, and his body was found in a barn in Norwich in last May. His death was ruled a homicide.

Whitcomb has not been charged as a suspect. No one has been brought into court in connection with Colson’s death.

Next week, Whitcomb will return to federal court in Rutland for the second part of a motion hearing on evidence in his firearms case.

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