Judge OKs Rehab for White River Junction Man

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2018 12:09:04 AM
Modified: 4/20/2018 9:36:54 AM

Burlington — A federal court judge on Thursday approved a 38-year-old White River Junction man’s request to go to a drug rehabilitation facility in Bradford, Vt., pending trial on firearms charges.

But there is a chance Richard Whitcomb, who prosecutors have identified as a suspect in the January disappearance of Royalton resident Austin Colson, won’t be able to go.

U.S. District Attorney Wendy Fuller plans to appeal Judge John M. Conroy’s decision, according to court documents. She has 24 hours to do so. A court spokesman on Thursday evening said Fuller hadn’t yet filed her appeal.

If Conroy’s ruling stands and if a bed becomes available, Whitcomb would be released from prison to attend a residential program at Valley Vista.

Just how long he would be there isn’t clear from court documents.

Upon his release from the program, he would be allowed to return to an approved residence, where pretrial services officials would oversee him through a location monitoring technology, documents state.

He would remain on home detention, with some exceptions.

He wouldn’t be allowed to leave the state of Vermont.

Whitcomb’s last known address was on Connecticut River Road in White River Junction.

Colson’s mother, DeAunna Claflin-McKinney, and several other family members and friends who have been searching for him attended Thursday’s packed hearing in Burlington — and arrived early to protest Whitcomb’s release outside the federal courthouse.

They held signs asking where Colson is, and many wore custom shirts with a similar message.

Claflin-McKinney didn’t want the judge to grant Whitcomb release. She said she doesn’t think Whitcomb needs drug treatment — he has been incarcerated since mid-February.

“It is just him getting what he wants so he can get out (of prison),” Claflin-McKinney said on Thursday evening. “There were a few times when I wanted to speak out (in court) but I couldn’t.”

She and Whitcomb went to Hartford High School together in the 1990s.

Whitcomb currently is detained on two federal firearms charges. One alleges he had unlawful possession of a .32-caliber pistol as a convicted felon, and the other alleges he carried that pistol during the distribution of cocaine in January.

Court documents indicate Whitcomb allegedly used the gun as collateral in a cocaine deal with Colson, who went missing on Jan. 11.

Claflin-McKinney previously said she and others believed her son had planned to collect scrap metal with Whitcomb that day, with the help of Colson’s father’s utility trailer. The trailer was found partially loaded with scrap on a rural road in Sharon a few days after Colson disappeared, according to police.

Colson, whose 20th birthday was in February, still is missing.

Claflin-McKinney and several other people have planned group searches for May 5, which falls on Vermont’s Green Up Day.

Now that the snow is gone, Claflin-McKinney said she hopes there will be new information that leads authorities to her son.

Claflin-McKinney is asking members of the public to join the search parties, which will convene in three separate locations in Norwich, Sharon and South Royalton.

Individuals also will hand out flyers that day to let the public know what to look for, such as specific articles of clothing Colson was last seen wearing.

For more information, email Claflin-McKinney at Dm76wm@gmail.com.

Vermont State Police continue to ask anyone with information about Colson’s whereabouts to come forward.

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

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