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Secret inquest seeks clues in the suspicious disappearance of a Barre man

  • Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault has started an inquest into the disappearance of Ralph “Rizz” Jean-Marie, 38, who has been missing since April.

Published: 9/14/2020 9:27:46 PM
Modified: 9/14/2020 9:27:42 PM

The Washington County state’s attorney has initiated an inquest to gather evidence and bring witnesses into court to say under oath what they know about the disappearance of a man in Barre where foul play is suspected.

Rory Thibault, the county’s top prosecutor, said Monday he is employing the rarely used and secretive investigative tool of an inquest to help get information in the case of 38-year-old Ralph “Rizz” Jean-Marie, who was reported missing by friends in April.

Police say they suspect Jean-Marie is the victim of foul play.

According to Thibault, the first witness was called into court as part of the inquest Friday, and Judge Mary Morrissey has issued subpoenas calling for the production of other “documentary” evidence.

In an inquest, Thibault said, a witness is called into court to provide testimony or evidence before a presiding judge. The proceeding takes place behind closed doors and the contents remain confidential until an investigation has concluded, the prosecutor added.

The prosecutor said there was little he could say about what specific evidence investigators are seeking through the inquest.

“In general terms,” Thibault said, “I believe there are witnesses who know more than what they have revealed to investigators.”

A witness who is issued a subpoena must appear at the inquest, the prosecutor said, but can invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during an inquest.

“One benefit,” Thibault said on an inquest, “is that appearance can be compelled, whereas a lay person on the street can decline to be interviewed or speak with law enforcement.”

A rally demanding justice for Jean-Marie took place Saturday in Barre. WCAX-TV reported that dozens of people attended, including Barbara Marseille, Jean-Marie’s sister, who said that she believed he was killed by several people.

Since his disappearance, people have also been seeking to bring greater attention to the case through social media and other means. One post on the Black Lives Matter VT Facebook group stated, “This is not the first time a Black person has gone missing without any great media attention.”

Thibauilt and police have contended that they have been working hard on the case since Jean-Marie’s disappearance was first reported.

Thibault said while the contents of an inquest are secret, the existence of one is not. Asked why he is announcing the existence of this inquest, the prosecutor replied, “Because of the significant public interest in the case and sentiments that either law enforcement or my office was not doing everything that was possible.”

According to Barre City Police, the law enforcement agency heading the investigation, Jean-Marie was last seen near the Hollow Inn on South Main Street in Barre City on April 13.

At the time of his disappearance, police said Jean-Marie did not have his glasses, wallet, or prescription medication with him.

Police say they have conducted more than a dozen interviews as part of their probe and have done several searches on foot and by drone. Rivers, ponds, and quarries have also been searched, according to investigators, at times with the use of a Vermont State Police “submersible.”

In addition, according to police, they have collected evidence that has been provided to the state’s crime lab for analysis. Police won’t release information about that evidence to protect the integrity of the investigation.

Jean-Marie was reported by friends missing from Barre around 9 p.m. on April 15, reportedly walking away from an argument at the Hollow Inn around 1 a.m. April 13, about 68 hours earlier, police said.

Police have said that they have not yet been able to verify that information.

Jean-Marie, a Black man, is 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs about 140 pounds, and has brown eyes and black hair, police said. Jean-Marie, according to police, was last seen wearing gray pajama pants, a gray Carhartt jacket, Adidas shoes, and a hat with the word, “King,” on it.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Barre police at 802-476-6613 or VTIPS at 844-848-8477.

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