by Doug McClure
NEWPORT/ST. JOHNSBURY – A hearing had been set for last Wednesday to allow both sides to present their evidence in the case of State of Vermont v. Darryl Johnson (21-CR-09385) who stands accused of one count of second-degree murder and one count of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Robert Chaplin on October 20. COVID had other plans.
Johnson was being held at the Northeast Vermont Regional Correctional Facility, and the Department of Corrections (DOC) had been instructed to bring Johnson to the Orleans County Court in Newport for the evidentiary hearing. A COVID situation at the facility intervened, the DOC canceled the transport. As noted by both Orleans County Court Criminal Division Superior Judge Lisa Warren and Johnson’s lawyer, Kelly Green, Johnson has the legal right to be at his weight of evidence hearing unless he waived it.
Johnson appeared via phone from the correctional facility at the hearing. When asked by Judge Warren if he would waive that right, he replied “I believe I need to be there in person.” The court had no option but to continue the evidentiary hearing to an as-yet-undetermined date, with multiple scheduling issues complicating setting that date.
With no evidentiary hearing possible, Green took the opportunity to resume the argument she had made at the November 1 arraignment that Johnson should be released on bail. Speaking for the State, Jennifer Barrett gave a rebuttal. The attorneys laid out their arguments in greater detail than previously.
After the attorneys made their arguments, Judge Warren took a “brief break.” When she returned, Judge Warren laid out her logic before providing a decision. She expressed concern about how long the COVID situation would last at the facility, as well as scheduling concerns. Judge Warren repeated that she has the discretion to make an exception on holding Johnson without bail under 13 V.S.A. § 7553 and 13 V.S.A. § 7554, “A person charged with an offense punishable by life imprisonment when the evidence of guilt is great may be held without bail. If the evidence of guilt is not great, the person shall be bailable in accordance with section 7554 of this title.”
She said that operating only on the state’s Affidavit of Probable Cause, Johnson’s mental condition “was a concern.” But, Judge Warren said, despite the “extreme violence” the state alleges in this case, there existed “no evidence of other violence” in Johnson’s history, and he had no prior record so there was no basis to assume he would fail to appear at a future hearing.
With that in mind, and apparently persuaded by Green’s effort to detail Johnson’s lifelong community ties, Judge Warren agreed to re-impose the $100,000 bail initially set with conditions. Beyond the typical requirements of showing up in court as required, not contacting Chaplin’s family, not leaving the state, and keeping the court clerk aware of his address, Judge Warren put Johnson’s wife, Holly, as his custodian and responsible for him. Johnson will be under a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and cannot purchase or possess any weapons. There can be no weapons in his house, either.