South Royalton murder case shipped south amid court system’s logistical hurdles

  • Frank Sanville, of South Royalton, Vt., walks into the courtroom before his arraignment on first-degree murder and four lesser charges at the Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on March 16, 2018. Sanville pleaded not guilty. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file — Carly Geraci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2021 9:29:42 PM
Modified: 9/8/2021 9:29:49 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The trial of the 74-year-old South Royalton man accused of walking into his estranged wife’s home and fatally shooting her more than three years ago is likely to be held early next year in Windham County because of HVAC problems with the courthouse in White River Junction, officials said Wednesday.

Frank Sanville continues to be held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., after pleading not guilty in March 2018 to first-degree murder and several other charges in the death of Wanda Sanville, 48. Frank Sanville walked into her Happy Hollow Road home and shot her in the back of the neck with a .22-caliber rifle, according to a police affidavit in the case.

At the time, Sanville was on furlough from a domestic assault conviction, and his wife’s family said he had been threatening her before the shooting. He also faces three felony charges of aggravated assault and a misdemeanor charge of firearm possession after conviction for a violent crime in the case.

At a status conference Wednesday afternoon, Windsor County State’s Attorney Ward Goodenough said “there are a number of final pieces that are still being resolved,” including some “final depositions” and a pending motion related to a defense expert who is expected to testify.

Although Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann filed an entry order in late August indicating the case might go to trial in November, both Goodenough and defense attorney Robert Sussman said in court Wednesday they were surprised by that timing. Sussman said he had another jury trial that month that would make it difficult to also prepare for Sanville’s trial.

Superior Court Judge John Treadwell, who presided over the status conference on Wednesday and is likely to be handling the case going forward, said the November time frame had been proposed because of an unexpected opening for a jury trial in Windham County.

But he agreed to push the trial date back, though said it would still likely be held in Brattleboro, Vt.

“As I understand it at this point, there is no reason to plan for the jury trial to be held anywhere than Windham County,” Treadwell said.

In a phone interview later Wednesday, Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson said jury trials and other in-person proceedings were not being held in the White River Junction courthouse during the COVID-19 pandemic because the building has “a compromised HVAC system” and that good air circulation was an important precaution.

The recently renovated courthouse in Woodstock does have an adequate HVAC system, and is being used for some civil trials, but doesn’t have a lockup needed to hold incarcerated defendants when they are not in the courtroom, he said. The Woodstock courthouse is handling some Windham County civil cases because of HVAC limitations with an older courthouse in Newfane, Vt.

Although the jury in a trial in the Sanville case would be drawn from a Windham County pool if it takes place in Brattleboro, Goodenough, the prosecutor, said in a phone interview after the hearing that holding the trial there adds a “layer of complication” to the proceedings. The Brattleboro courthouse is 63 miles south of White River Junction, and the Sanville trial is expected to take six days, including jury draw.

“In particular, it matters on a very logistical level. We are asking witnesses, victims, attorneys and other support staff to drive much farther distances to participate in these trials,” Goodenough said.

The Sanville status conference on Wednesday, which the defendant did not attend, was held via Webex software, with only the judge in court, but it also had a minor disruption. At one point during the discussion between the judge and two attorneys, the defendant in another case whose status conference was scheduled for the same time and who was calling in from his home interjected, “I don’t understand what’s happening.”

A court official told him, “This is not your case,” and put him on mute.

Asked about the incident, Grearson said, “The use of technology under these circumstances certainly has its complications. It doesn’t always go as smoothly as you or I or the users of these systems would like.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or

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