(First appeared in the July 29th edition of the Vermont Standard)
By ERIC FRANCIS
HARTLAND – The formal sentencing finally took place this week in connection with a November 2008 struggle for a handgun on a remote Hartland property that left four people with bullet wounds.
Jeffrey Ely, 29, of Windsor pled guilty to reckless endangerment, violation of probation, and three counts of simple assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 2 to 4 years with credit for the nearly two years he has already been behind bars while awaiting trial.
Vermont Assistant Attorney General Cathy Norman addressed Judge Theresa DiMauro at the Windsor District Court in White River Junction Tuesday afternoon, saying that she felt the purely punitive sentence and accompanying revocation of Ely’s previous probation was justified because “this violent incident has had serious lasting effects on these young men” who were victims.
Norman added that Ely, who has several violence-related convictions on his criminal record, “had previously received probationary sentences and he did not take advantage of any of them” to mend his menacing ways.
Judge DiMauro agreed, saying from the bench, “given all of his past history it seems that a punitive response is appropriate and has a deterrent value” for others.
It was just past midnight on the morning of Sunday, November 10, 2008, when – according to the affidavit filed on the case by Detective Sgt. Richard Holden – state police were called out because three 21-year-old men had all showed up at Mount Ascutney Hospital with gunshot wounds looking for treatment.
Luke Willey of Windsor was treated for a graze wound to his left chest area and was quickly released from the hospital, but Jared Brooks of Hartland had a neck wound and Nathan Heath of Windsor had been shot in the head – injuries that required them to be transferred to the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for further treatment.
According to Holden’s affidavit, the men had all been to a “small social gathering” at Brooks’ residence off Center of Town Road in Hartland that Saturday evening when a group decided to drive further into the woods and check out a tree stand shooting platform located on the property. One of the groups’ drivers was Ely, who hit a stump because he “had trouble operating his vehicle due to the poor condition of the roadway,” Sgt. Holden wrote.
While trying to free his 1987 BMW, Ely apparently damaged the road which in turn upset Brooks’ brother, Jordan, who got out onto the roadway and into a physical altercation with Ely, according to Holden’s account.
Holden quoted Jordan Brooks as saying after the “wrestling match” was broken up Ely was told to leave at which point Ely went to his car and then immediately came back, saying he was looking for a hat he’d dropped in the struggle, “but then he pulls out a handgun,” Holden noted.
“Jordan advised he then hears a gun shot and someone yelling, â€˜I’ve been shot,’â€¦he then got under a truck and sees Ely getting pinned to the ground by the other individualsâ€¦he then hears more shots and (sees) Ely running into the woods,” Sgt. Holden recounted.
“In interviews with both Luke Willey and Nathan Heathâ€¦they both advised that when Ely refused to leave he returned with a handgun,” Holden wrote, continuing, “Willey advised that he tried to sneak around Ely and then took him down to the groundâ€¦once he got Ely on the ground, Nathan Heath jumped in to help him. While they were wrestling with Ely, Ely was on his stomach and his hands and gun were underneath him. While trying to get the gun away from Ely, the gun fired multiple times.”
Holden was at the residence of a friend of Ely’s just before 9 a.m. that Monday doing an interview when Ely knocked on the front door and was promptly arrested without incident. “Ely advised he was hurt and displayed a (gunshot) wound on his left side,” Holden recalled. Police later recovered a 9mm Ruger from the ground about 80 feet from Ely’s stuck vehicle.
At the time of his arrest, Ely was already “Brady disqualified” from purchasing guns and had been ordered a year before the shooting incident to undergo anger management counseling and not to possess any guns, except for hunting purposes, after which he was placed on probation for “smashing up” a residence in Cavendish. At the time, Ely’s live-in girlfriend told troopers he had been drinking and “had a loaded 9mm handgun” in his possession.
In 2006 Ely had been convicted of simple assault for an incident that allegedly included a threat to the victim that he should “get outta here (or) I’m gonna shoot ya.”
In 2003 Ely plead no contest to two counts of reckless endangerment after his father and brother told police he’d threatened to shoot them with a high-powered rifle in their driveway in West Windsor.
Ely’s criminal record, which dates back to 1999, also includes convictions for unlawful mischief, simple assault, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, drunk driving, driving with a suspended license, possession of stolen property and 13 previous violations of probation.