(This story was first published in the August 1, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Eric Francis, Standard Correspondent
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – A bizarre attack on a pair of pet goats belonging to the children of a state game warden that was carried out in the fall of 2011 gave rise to three-day trial last week which ended in the acquittal of the Hartland man who had been accused of masterminding the whole thing.
A Windsor County jury deliberated for a little more than three hours on Friday afternoon before returning with five ‘not guilty’ verdicts covering all of the charges that had been facing 35-year-old Nicholas Ashline, a Hartland business owner who’d made it no secret he harbored an intense personal dislike of West Windsor resident Steven Majeski, who is currently Vermont’s State Game Warden of the Year.
Daniel Parry, another West Windsor resident, who was 21 years old at the time, admitted last year that he was person who ran onto Warden Majeski’s property at the end of a long dirt road over the midnight hour on October 29, 2011 even as snow was falling heavily across the region, and slit the throats of the goats belonging to the Majeski children. One of the goats survived and eventually recovered from the grievous injury, the other did not.
For prosecutors, the reason for the savage attacks was always as simple as the one that Parry gave them after troopers and wardens figured out in the week’s afterwards that he was responsible: it was, Parry said, a spur of the moment thing that Nick Ashline had put him up to that evening and offered to pay him to do in order to “get at” the warden and “warn him off” Ashline’s trail.
Vermont Assistant Attorney General Cathy Norman stressed that line of thinking when she began her closing argument to the jury by asking them to think, “Why on Earth would Daniel Parry have done what he did that night?”
“He didn’t know the Majeskis,” she said, adding, “He didn’t even know where they lived,” suggesting the only motive Parry could have had, since he’d freely admitted he was heavily addicted to Percocets at that time, was a desire to make some quick cash in order to buy more drugs.
Although the conspiracy the state thought had taken place was a concise one, the parade of witnesses brought by both sides to testify before the jury was anything but straightforward.
Many were either current or former employees of the Ashlines or their close friends or their cousins or all of the above. It quickly became apparent that there was a history of tangled relationships and inter-family squabbles between several of the key witnesses that, while the specific details were not being discussed in open court, still unpinned much of their willingness or reluctance to back up the testimony of specific individuals.
Amidst that backdrop, Nick Ashline took what his defense attorney Peter Decato later described as a courageous decision to get in the witness box himself and testify in his own defense.
“Nick didn’t have to take the stand but he did,” Decato said after his client was cleared and then hugged in the courtroom by a wave of family members and supporters afterwards. “Nick’s a pretty blunt guy,” Decato continued, “Some people don’t appreciate bluntness but I do. He was actually disappointed there weren’t more questions.”
Ashline admitted during his testimony that he didn’t like the game warden and that he’d described him on more than one occasion using what Decato later termed “colorful language”; however, Ashline was also adamant that he never suggested killing the goats even in jest, never offered Parry money, never paid him and that he had no idea when he dropped him off that night for what he said he thought was going to be a short walk by Parry to Parry’s girlfriend’s house that Parry would go onto Majeski’s property and do such a thing.
Decato said he was “completely shocked” by the way the trial had unfolded, including the spectacle of one key witness who recanted all of his previous testimony that had been taken during the deposition process and reversed himself at the last possible moment when he got up to testify.
“We have a wonderful legal system,” Decato opined, adding, “I feel bad about the goats. I’d be upset if anybody hurt my cat. But I don’t think that was what this case was about.” Referring to the five witnesses and suspects who were in Ashline’s pickup truck when it drove out toward Majeski’s house in the minutes before the goats were attacked Decato said, “The choice for the jury came down to, ‘Do we believe the guys in the front seats who had very little to drink or the guys in the backseat who were clearly intoxicated?”
(This story was first published in the July 18, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
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