Judge OKs Out-of-State Hospital Trip for Suspect in Colson Case

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/11/2018 3:23:45 PM
Modified: 12/11/2018 11:16:41 PM

Burlington — The 39-year-old Hartford man who has been identified as a suspect in the disappearance of a Royalton teen later found shot to death will be allowed to leave Vermont for five days while an immediate family member undergoes serious surgery, a federal judge said on Tuesday.

Richard Whitcomb Jr., who faces unrelated charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, must stay within 5 miles of the Boston hospital between Jan. 28 and Feb. 2 and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy ruled in U.S. District Court.

Defense lawyer Brad Stetler, of Burlington, said he believed it was important for Whitcomb to be with the family member during a critical surgery.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Fuller strenuously objected to the Boston trip, noting back in April it was “a close call” when the court eventually agreed to release Whitcomb on strict conditions following a two-day detention hearing in the gun case.

“We still believe he is dangerous,” said Fuller, who is assigned to oversee major violent crimes handled by federal prosecutors in Vermont.

Fuller said she was worried Whitcomb would be driving through Manchester, N.H., where Whitcomb previously had told police he had purchased cocaine.

Conroy also ruled Whitcomb can go to Boston for a one-day pre-operation appointment for the family member on Jan. 11, which will be the one-year anniversary of the last time Austin Colson was seen alive.

Whitcomb last winter was listed as a prime suspect in Colson’s disappearance. The body of the 19-year-old Royalton man was found in late May in a barn in Norwich where Whitcomb once had worked as a caretaker. Colson had been shot in the head multiple times, an autopsy showed. Nobody has been charged in the slaying.

Fuller has said Whitcomb had provided conflicting statements when questioned by detectives about his conduct and also his relationship with Colson. She said in court papers that Whitcomb is believed to be the last person to see Colson alive.

Conroy’s ruling was unwelcomed news for Colson’s family, friends and other supporters who were part of a faithful search party for several months. On Tuesday about a dozen of them — some with large handmade posters — protested in front of the federal courthouse on Elmwood Avenue in Burlington. Some wore orange T-shirts in support of “Justice for Austin.”

Some of them shouted remarks as Whitcomb and his wife, Sara, walked to their parked truck after the hearing.

Whitcomb, who lives on Connecticut River Road, gathered the few signs protesters had left on his black truck, threw them in back and drove off.

The ruling was a disappointment, but not a surprise, to Dana Colson, Austin’s father.

“We expected it,” Colson said outside the courthouse as he watched other protesters confront the Whitcombs across the street.

Colson said he remains hopeful criminal charges can be brought against the person responsible for his son’s death. He said the focus is on the evidence that has been collected, including electronic information from cellphones.

Vermont State Police have said the investigation has shown Whitcomb and Colson were scheduled to go looking for scrap metal on Jan. 11. Whitcomb maintains they never connected.

Cellphone records dispute the locations that Whitcomb claims he was at on Jan. 11, records show.

The trailer Colson and Whitcomb scheduled to use to haul the collected scrap was found abandoned on Downer Road in Sharon, a week after Colson went missing.

It was about 8 miles north from where Colson’s remains later were found.

Whitcomb has pleaded not guilty to two federal firearms counts. One charge alleges the unlawful possession of a .32-caliber semiautomatic as a convicted felon in January. Whitcomb has a felony conviction for aggravated domestic assault in Windsor County, court records show.

The second felony charge alleges that the .32-caliber pistol was used as collateral in a cocaine deal with Colson in January.

Vermont State Police have said the Colson investigation remains a high priority.

Mike Donoghue can be reached at vermontnewsfirst@gmail.com.

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