Johnson Pleads Not Guilty, Denied Bail

by Doug McClure
screenshot by Doug McClure | Monday’s arraignment for Greensboro resident Darryl Johnson, 51 (seated at right). His attorney for the arraignment was Kelly Grant (standing next to him), and prosecuting for the state was Jennifer Barrett (standing, left.) Members of Johnson’s family are seated in the gallery

NEWPORT – On Monday afternoon, 51-year-old Greensboro resident Darryl Johnson appeared in person before Orleans County Court Criminal Division Superior Judge Lisa Warren. Johnson was arrested by Vermont State Police Friday and is charged with a count of second-degree murder and a count of manslaughter in the death of Robert Chaplin, 27. 

Johson could face life imprisonment or a “preemptive minimum” of 20 years for the count of murder. The state alleges that Johnson “acted with an intent to kill, or an intent to do great bodily harm, or a wanton disregard of the likelihood that death or great bodily harm would result.”

If convicted of the count of manslaughter, that carries a penalty of not less than one year and not more than fifteen years, a $3,000 fine, or both.

Representing Johnson at the arraignment was Kelly Green, though she said she was standing in and he would be seeking a public defender. The state was represented by Jennifer Barrett,  who requested that Johnson be held without bail. 

Barrett said that Johnson allegedly told law enforcement he was going to kill Chaplin if he came to his house, and said that when police arrived, allegedly told police “I told you so.” Both attorneys said Chaplin was in his vehicle at the property, but diverged when it came to the events that allegedly transpired culminating in Chaplin’s death. Both agree that the firearm failed to fire two times, but gave differing explanations. Barrett alleged that the reason given was he forgot the safety was off, and Green said the gun “misfired.” In the Affidavit of Probable Cause filed by Det. Sgt. Francis LaBombard of the Vermont State Police, Orleans County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Wells said he interviewed Johnson, and “Johnson stated that the revolver missed fired [sic] twice because the safety was on and he forgot to take it off the whole time he [Johnson] was yelling at him [Chaplin] to get the f*** off his property.”

To make a case for Judge Warren granting Johnson release on bail, Green pointed to Johnson’s roots in the community. She said he grew up in the same house where he lives presently. Green said that he knew the court had given the option of conducting the arraignment virtually, but he wanted to come to Newport in person with multiple family members to show the judge who he really was. Green said Johnson had no criminal record and extensive community support. She contrasted that with what she said was an outstanding “violent felony” that had been pending for Chaplin. She said the community had rallied around Johnson and his family since the incident, giving the specific example of the United Church of Hardwick bringing the family meals. 

Green said that Chaplin “chased [Johnson] down.” She said that the state police never spoke to Johnson and that Johnson had presented himself to the Hardwick Police Department, along with video evidence without being told to.

After Green’s explanation of why she believed Johnson met the legal standard for Judge Warren allowing bail, Barrett repeated Johnson’s alleged own words to police. Judge Warren said the court was concerned with the “significantly lengthy” affidavit and described the “nature and circumstances” of the crime as “extremely serious and extremely violent.” She ordered Johnson held without bail until she could get more information at a scheduled Wednesday morning weight-of-evidence hearing.

The sixteen-page affidavit describes the events that led up to the shooting as investigated by the Vermont State Police, Orleans County Sheriff, and Hardwick Police Department. The police investigation was aided by surveillance video from the Hardwick Convenience and Deli store and cameras at Johnson’s house. 

The initial altercation at the convenience store was responded to by Hardwick Police Department’s Officer Joseph Rossi just before 7 p.m., and Chaplin arrived by car at Johnson’s residence just past 8 p.m. No video of the shooting itself was discovered. One piece of surveillance video puts the time between the 911 call to Newport dispatch reporting the shooting and the first emergency response at twenty-five minutes. Chaplin was pronounced dead at 9:54 p.m. at Copley Hospital.

Police described multiple times what they called the disparity in size between the two. Johnson was described as “approximately 6’2″ tall and is a large, framed subject [sic]. Chaplin was determined to be approximately 5’10” and is a large, framed subject [sic]. There is a distinct difference in size the size Johnson has over Chapin, which is apparent in the video at the Hardwick Convenience Store.” The surveillance video from Hardwick Convenience and Deli was reviewed and police described the altercation in the parking lot outside the store.

The affidavit said Johnson described his weapon as a .22-caliber magnum revolver with a 16-inch barrel. The fatal shot that struck Chaplin was sustained under the left armpit. Police say Chaplin was not armed. According to the affidavit, Johnson had no apparent bodily injuries at the scene and declined medical assistance.

Both Johnson and his wife were interviewed. Police never interacted with Chaplin. Body camera footage was used to document the sequence of events, including from Officers R. J. Caldwell and Joseph Rossi of the Hardwick Police Department.

According to the affidavit, Johnson told police he knew Chaplin from working together at a construction company “years ago” and “stated he has not associated with Chaplin since that time.” Both Johnson and his wife referred to Chaplin as “Robby.”