Roger Pion shown competent for trial

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

NEWPORT — A new examination of Roger Pion’s mental health shows that he is currently competent to stand trial, attorneys and Judge Howard Van Benthuysen heard in the criminal division of Orleans Superior Court Tuesday.

His new lawyer, Chandler Matson, asked for some time to prepare for a trial.  He is the third attorney on the case and said he does not have all the records yet.  He said he is 60 to 70 percent up to speed.

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Everybody wins at the Lowell FOLK festival

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Ed Newton of Newport restored this 1947 Masse Harris tractor, with which his grandfather farmed.

Ed Newton of Newport restored this 1947 Masse Harris tractor, with which his grandfather farmed. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

LOWELL — “There’s no losers in this kind of a deal.  Everybody wins,” said Ed Newton as he held up his first place ribbon for his 1947 Massey Harris tractor.  Identical ribbons went to each participant in the Lowell FOLK festival parade on Saturday, and his comment seemed like a pretty good summary of the day as a whole.

The FOLK festival is a benefit for projects at the Lowell Graded School.  FOLK stands for Friends of Lowell Kids.

“Our original mission was to build a playground,” sai

Left to right:  Kevin Hodgman and Ben and Keri Willey visit while looking over auction items at the Lowell FOLK festival Saturday.

Left to right: Kevin Hodgman and Ben and Keri Willey visit while looking over auction items at the Lowell FOLK festival Saturday.

d Amy Olsen, an organizer of the festival.  She said the group managed to raise enough money to build the playground, and now that the original mission has been accomplished, the group decided to keep going to fund other school-related projects, such as field trips, special visitors coming in, and a picnic at the end of the school year.

The FOLK festival parade Saturday featured churches, tractors (restored and new), fire trucks, horses and lots of candy being thrown from floats and picked up by kids along the parade route.

Mr. Newton drives a truck for Blue Flame gas, and his grandfather was a farmer in Brownington.

Katherine Pion takes advantage of a huge inflatable slide for kids during the Lowell FOLK festival.

Katherine Pion takes advantage of a huge inflatable slide for kids during the Lowell FOLK festival.

“My grandfather bought it brand new,” Mr. Newton said about his tractor.  His grandfather’s name was Glenn Newton, and when he stopped using the tractor he parked it.

“I found it in the woods, in the mud,” Mr. Newton said, and two trees were growing up in the middle of it.  He cut the trees, dragged it out of the mud, and fixed the tractor back up for going in parades.  He said it has earned its keep, so now it’s retired.

He pointed to all the array of other tractors in the parade Saturday and said, the restored ones that are shiny with fresh paint are said to be in their Sunday best, while the others are in their work clothes.

After the parade, townspeople headed to the Lowell Graded School where booths were set up with crafts, baked goods, games for kids, a bouncy house, and more.  Karen Colburn and Amanda Atwood had a table with products from Celebrating Home and Penelope Ann, a company that offers jewelry and bake ware, personalized items such as plaques, cutting boards, backpacks and handbags.

Lyse McAllister rode her horse Cheyenne's Dandy Mac, who is part Morgan, part pinto and part quarter horse, in the parade.

Lyse McAllister rode her horse Cheyenne’s Dandy Mac, who is part Morgan, part pinto and part quarter horse, in the parade.

These items are for sale by local sales people, who can either hold parties, sell through a catalogue, or through the company’s website.

Inside the gym were more booths, and auction items were on display for the auction to be held in the afternoon.  Among them were a mini-bar and a new wooden wishing well.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Sterling College hosts Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future

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High school student Toby Marx-Dunn of Jericho attempts to plow a straight furrow under the guidance of Sterling College draft horse manager Rick Thomas (at left), while Sterling students Lee Droste (at right) and Dave Martorana (immediately to the right of Mr. Marx-Dunn) help with the animals.  Sterling hosted the first Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

High school student Toby Marx-Dunn of Jericho attempts to plow a straight furrow under the guidance of Sterling College draft horse manager Rick Thomas (at left), while Sterling students Lee Droste (at right) and Dave Martorana (immediately to the right of Mr. Marx-Dunn) help with the animals. Sterling hosted the first Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Toby Marx-Dunn, a high school student from Jericho, was listening to National Public Radio one day, and it got him thinking about the food he eats.  He decided he wanted to know more and get better, healthier food.  This impulse led him to sign up for a brand new summer Governor’s Institutes of Vermont — one called Farms, Food and Your Future.

Last week the impulse left him standing behind the back ends of a pair of large, patient workhorses in a farm field at Sterling College.

Sterling was one of the hosts of this year’s institute, the first one to focus on these subjects.  Mr. Marx-Dunn seems to be not alone in his impulse, judging by admissions numbers at Sterling.  Last year the college — which teaches sustainable agriculture and food-related topics — had about 90 students.  This fall the doors will open to a full class of 110.  Tim Patterson, director of admissions and financial aid, said the dorms are full.

The Governor’s institutes are residencies for high school students with accelerated learning on college campuses in specific subject areas.  This year’s institutes included ones on the arts, engineering, information technology, mathematics, and Asian cultures.

On Wednesday, July 31, Toby Marx-Dunn picked up the handles of a plow behind two big horses named Daisy and Rexi.  His new job was to try to make the thing go straight.

“It doesn’t go straight by itself,” he reported shortly after plowing his very first two furrows.  Asked if it was fun, he said vehemently, “No.”

Not fun, Mr. Marx-Dunn explained, because it’s much harder than it looks.

Even so, Mr. Marx-Dunn and a dozen other high schoolers did get the basics on how fields are plowed, and why good soil is important, and how Sterling plans to enrich the soil on the particular field they were plowing that day.  Draft horse manager Rick Thomas explained that plows can only dig so deep, and the soil was hard below the furrow.  In order to loosen it up and add some organic matter to the hardpan, they would plant daikon radishes as a cover crop.  These radishes grow fast and have deep roots.

High school students at the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future walk through the turkey pen to see the pasture at Sterling College in Craftsbury.

High school students at the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future walk through the turkey pen to see the pasture at Sterling College in Craftsbury.

Also that day, the students met a flock of young turkeys destined for a flock of Thanksgiving tables, and they learned about the difficulty of growing turkeys to the right weight, why pasture is good for them and why they are good for pasture, and a little about heritage breeds.

Sterling raises 1,000 birds a year on its farm.  The young turkey poults the students saw that day had already grown 12 pounds in a month and a half, so the farm manager explained they would have to be processed and frozen well before Thanksgiving, so they would not be too big to fit into a regular oven.

In between these outdoor adventures, the students heard about how the cafeteria works at Sterling College.

The college grows 20 percent of its own food, and 44 percent of the food in the cafeteria is grown on local farms.  Faculty, staff, and students all eat together and each helps with the work of putting that food onto the tables.

Anne Obelnicki, director of food systems, explained to the group that last year the college grew 760 pounds of rutabagas and because of the skill of cooks at Sterling, no one got sick of rutabaga.  She said they used it in all sorts of unusual ways, even mashed as an ingredient in cake.

“I think that deliciousness is part of sustainability,” she said.  If the food doesn’t taste good, people won’t keep eating it.

She said another part of sustainability is making the food affordable.

“The food at Sterling doesn’t cost any more than at any other college,” she said.  She said people are always saying local food is more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.  Sterling has great cooks, she said, who can make a delicious meal out of rice and beans, for example.

Ms. Obelnicki passed out free samples of salami made at Sterling, which she explained is made with raw meat and bacteria so it will ferment.

At Sterling, she said, “We don’t just eat to eat.  We eat because we’re trying to live our education here.”

Ms. Obelnicki said students at some colleges have started a “real food” challenge.  They go into their college cafeterias and start asking questions about how much of the food is local, organic, and fair trade.  If a series of questions can be answered in the affirmative, she said, the food can be called real.  The students who came up with the idea set a goal, she said, “Let’s get real food into our college — 20 percent by 2020.”

Under these guidelines, Sterling’s cafeteria has about 70 percent real food, one of the highest percentages in the country.

Jonathan Kaplan, lead faculty for the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future, teaches biology and history at Lyndon State College.  He is a former state advisor for the Future Farmers of America (FFA).  Lyndon State is also a participant in the real food challenge.

After hearing Ms. Obelnicki’s discussion of Sterling’s food system, he told the students they might want to take that real food challenge back home with them.

“There’s nothing stopping you from going back to your high school and making this happen,” he said.

Christian Feuerstein, director of communications for Sterling, noted the college now offers minors in draft horse management, climate justice, and sustainable food systems.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Tough Mudder is a challenge, not a race

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For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Sports pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Sports pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

by Bethany M. Dunbar

If obstacles with names such as the Arctic Enema and the Boa Constrictor — which involves muddy water, barbed wire, and culverts — sound like fun, then maybe the Tough Mudder is for you.

On Saturday at Mount Snow in Dover, a team from the Fortitude Fitness Systems of Derby and Lyndonville, and an individual local competitor, joined throngs of thousands to see what they were made of.

The Tough Mudder credo says it’s not a race; it’s a personal challenge.  People are challenged to put other competitors — teammates or otherwise — ahead of a desire to complete the course in a particular time.

Still, anyone who does Tough Mudder is likely to have at least some competitive streak and is probably thinking about how long it’s taking.

Tyler Gosley of Barton completed the course in four hours and ten minutes.  He had done it the year before with a big team in six hours.

“It’s really not a race,” he said.  “It’s about leaving no one behind.”

He said random people helped him through some of the obstacles, and he helped others.  It’s just part of the dynamic of the event.

Logan Perron of Glover (front) and Eric Hastings of Newport Center crawl out of the Electric Eel.  The wires hanging down are live wires, so if you touch them you get zapped, which is definite motivation to crawl through as fast and stealthily as possible.  Mr. Perron was the one person on the Fortitude Fitness Team to cross the Funky Monkey (monkey bars over a mud pool) successfully.  Photo by Lisa Cordeau

Logan Perron of Glover (front) and Eric Hastings of Newport Center crawl out of the Electric Eel. The wires hanging down are live wires, so if you touch them you get zapped, which is definite motivation to crawl through as fast and stealthily as possible. Mr. Perron was the one person on the Fortitude Fitness Team to cross the Funky Monkey (monkey bars over a mud pool) successfully. Photo by Lisa Cordeau

Tough Mudder raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, which Mr. Gosley said helps disabled veterans.  He knows of one case where the project built a house for a veteran.  It was set up with amenities that particular veteran needed.

The course goes up and down on Mount Snow.  Parts of it have water, some parts have wires providing electrical shocks.  The Arctic Enema is an obstacle with ice water and boards the competitors must swim under.  One obstacle requires climbing hand over hand over a muddy pool of water with the use of monkey bars.  Competitors must carry logs and climb curved walls, running up and down the mountainous trail in the meantime.

The Fortitude Fitness Systems team celebrates its accomplishment after completing the course.  In the back row, left to right, are Logan Perron of Glover, Angie Marquis of Newport Center, Lisa Cordeau of Newport (team photographer and support person), Eric Hastings and Hailey Gentile of Newport Center (recently engaged), and Mark Tucker.  In the front row are Carole Ricard of Derby, Sylvie Corriveau of Stanstead, Quebec, Kim Swett of Derby Line, and Deb Weber of East Haven.  Photo courtesy of Lisa Cordeau

The Fortitude Fitness Systems team celebrates its accomplishment after completing the course. In the back row, left to right, are Logan Perron of Glover, Angie Marquis of Newport Center, Lisa Cordeau of Newport (team photographer and support person), Eric Hastings and Hailey Gentile of Newport Center (recently engaged), and Mark Tucker. In the front row are Carole Ricard of Derby, Sylvie Corriveau of Stanstead, Quebec, Kim Swett of Derby Line, and Deb Weber of East Haven. Photo courtesy of Lisa Cordeau

Mr. Gosley, who is a certified personal trainer, said he did not know how many people participated this year, but last year he heard it was 14,000 in one day.  Competitors were started in waves of 600 each.

“It was awesome.  The crowd, the energy was top notch.  The weather — you couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Kim Swett of Derby Line, a member of the Fortitude Fitness Systems team, did the Tough Mudder for the first time and wrote about her efforts in a blog:  onemoosersjourney.blogspot.com.

Here is an excerpt:

Saturday morning dawned and the butterflies fluttering in my stomach ramped up the fluttering to break dancing.  It got worse as I registered, had someone write my number on my forehead and my forearm, pinned on my number and approached the start.  Luckily Carole had thought to tell me that before we got to the start we had to go over a wall.  With help from Logan, Eric and Tyler I made it over.  Hailey and Carole were waiting on the other side to remind me to lower myself with my arms before I jumped so it wouldn’t be as far.

The fear let up a little at this point and I got into the spirit at the start.  The MC led us through, “The Star Spangled Banner,” ten seconds of silence for military personnel and then we all recited the “Mudder Pledge.”  Everyone was pumped up, it was infectious. Suddenly for the first time I didn’t want to cry:  I wanted to put my training and hard work to the test.

It wasn’t easy, and she describes her successes and attempts in some detail.  In the end, she is glad she took the challenge:

We made it to the top of the mountain near a chair lift and Hailey led me through some yoga stretches, though honestly in extended child’s pose I mostly hunched over and sobbed.  My back hurt, I was exhausted and I was afraid I was going to fail.  At that point I reminded myself where I started, I reminded myself of my training and I heard my coach’s voice in my head.  “Do it! You can do it!  Dominate this!” echoed and I pushed back to my feet.  My team believed in me, my coach believed in me:  I had to believe in myself too.

Hailey Gentile of Newport Center peeks up after sliding through the Boa Constrictor obstacle during Tough Mudder competition at Mount Snow on Saturday.  She was a member of the Fortitude Fitness Systems team.  For a story and more photos, please turn to page eighteen.  Photo by Lisa Cordeau

Hailey Gentile of Newport Center peeks up after sliding through the Boa Constrictor obstacle during Tough Mudder competition at Mount Snow on Saturday. She was a member of the Fortitude Fitness Systems team. For a story and more photos, please turn to page eighteen. Photo by Lisa Cordeau

I’d love to tell you the rest of the course was a breeze, that I did it with no more tears and no more moments of wanting to admit defeat and ask for a medic.  That was not the case, but every time I wanted to quit, my friends were there to coax one more step.

To make a long story a little shorter:  I finished Tough Mudder.  I have the T-shirt and orange headband to prove it.  A friend who completed Tough Mudder last year told me it was life changing.  She was right.  I hurt when I finished, I won’t lie about that, but I felt better.  I found the mental and physical stamina to go on when it would have been easier (possibly even wiser) to stop.

The little voice that belittles and berates me was silent and has been silent since a Tough Mudder volunteer put that orange headband on me.  I know that voice probably is not gone for good, it will sneak back in at some point, but now I will silence it.  I’m strong, I’ve always been strong I suppose, but I didn’t believe it before now.

 contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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In Barton: Chronicle reporter watches car get stolen

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by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — A veteran reporter for the Chronicle had his car stolen from the office as he was working inside on Tuesday.  But about three hours later, the vehicle was found in Orleans, and the person who took it was caught.

About 3:30 p.m., Assistant Editor Natalie Hormilla Gordon arrived for her evening shift job and noticed a young man in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in Paul Lefebvre’s car, holding the steering wheel.

She did not recognize him, thought it was odd, and when she went inside, she told Mr. Lefebvre, who went outside to take a look.  By then the car was being driven from the scene, badly.  It’s a Honda CRV with standard shift, and the driver was stalling as he made his getaway, down Water Street and north on Route 5, as Mr. Lefebvre watched.

Thinking he might be able to head it off on foot, Mr. Lefebvre cut through the schoolyard at a run to try to get his car back.

The attempt proved unfruitful, so he came back to the office where he called the State Police to report the theft.  Chronicle staffers also decided to post the car’s theft on Facebook.  Trooper Erika Liss came to the Chronicle office and interviewed Mr. Lefebvre and Ms. Gordon, who had got a good look at the robber.  She described him as a white male in his twenties, average size, with blue eyes, wearing a Navy blue hoodie.

“He had his hands on the wheel, looking kind of intense,” she said.  “He was just sitting there, and I thought, maybe he knows Paul.”

Mr. Lefebvre said his first thought was, “How am I going to get home tonight?”

His car had been in an accident about a week and a half before, and the back window was smashed out and covered with a green tarp and duct tape.  It also had problems with the door, created in the accident.

Mr. Lefebvre said it has not been a very lucky car for him, as he has had to put in a new motor, water pump, and clutch.

“I think that car has a hex on it,” he said.

But Mr. Lefebvre’s luck was apparently turning a few hours later, when people started calling the office to say they had seen the car in Orleans Village.  They were aware of the theft due to the Facebook post.  Mr. Lefebvre called the police back to say the car had been spotted in Orleans, and Lieutenant Kirk Cooper went to the village, spotted the car and found out the driver was in the bathroom at the Sunoco station.  The driver, who said he is from Enosburg and had no wallet with him, was cited after he came out of the bathroom.

Mr. Lefebvre had his car back, and nothing seemed to be missing from the vehicle.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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House votes down farm bill

A group of heifers hang out in Brownington.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

A group of heifers hang out in Brownington. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected the five-year farm bill, 234 to 195.

Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont was among the no votes.

Mr. Welch supported the bill as it was passed by the House Agriculture Committee, but in a telephone interview Tuesday he said he was among the Democrats who voted against the bill on the floor on Thursday, June 20.

An amendment supported by House Speaker John Boehner was just too drastic, he said.  The speaker encouraged several changes, including stripping out a dairy insurance and supply management plan for farmers.  Also, cuts to nutrition programs to help low-income families were severe, Mr. Welch said.

He said some Republicans wanted to drastically cut nutrition spending, and people who received help with food costs would be required to take drug tests and go into a work program.

“You had to go into a work program that didn’t exist,” Mr. Welch said.

States would also get financial benefits for getting people off the programs.  In other words, the provisions were designed to get rid of nutrition programs, Mr. Welch said.  He said he just couldn’t vote yes in good conscience.  He hopes a new version of the bill will be developed.

“I’m more disappointed about the farm bill going down than just about anything I’ve done in Congress,” he said.

The House Agriculture Committee bill had bipartisan support, he said, and would have included cuts to food programs that were more severe than the Senate’s version.  But Mr. Welch said he supported the committee bill because he was confident it could be repaired in a conference committee.

Asked what now, Congressman Welch said, “It’s really Mr. Boehner’s decision.”  He added,  “America needs a farm bill.  It’s outrageous, basically, to give rural America the back of our hand.”

A letter Mr. Boehner wrote to his colleagues asks them to support an amendment called the Goodlatte/Scott amendment to cut dairy programs and get rid of supply management.

“Taxpayers have shelled out $5.44-billion for dairy programs since the 2002 Farm Bill (which I voted against),” says the letter.

Mr. Welch said the dairy program in the committee bill was a good plan, spearheaded by Vermont farmers.  It would have gotten rid of subsidies, replacing them with a margin insurance plan and supply management.

The Senate version of the bill, as outlined by Senator Pat Leahy last year, reduced spending by more than $23-billion.  Dairy farmers would have the option to buy margin insurance to protect their prices when the federal milk price drops below the cost of production.  The supply management provision would discourage overproduction of milk by paying less if a farmer increases production at times when the price is down.  The insurance would be available at a lower price for the first four million pounds of milk, about the annual production of 200 to 250 cows.

The U.S. Senate has passed a farm bill twice.  After the no vote on Thursday, Senator Patrick Leahy issued a press release saying the House Republican leaders “trumped practicality with ideology, at the expense of farmers and consumers and millions of families who constantly struggle to keep hunger and malnutrition at bay.”

The farm bill covers dairy policy and nutrition programs.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an $80-billion program.  The House version of the farm bill would have cut it by $20-billion while the Senate version would have cut it by $4-billion.

In the past, the farm bill has also helped create jobs in rural areas through a program called the REAP zone.  It has funded environmental protection programs.  The Senate version of the bill included these provisions and others to help farmers get organic certification and to expand farmers markets.

Some of Mr. Welch’s priorities for the farm bill are disaster insurance for vegetable growers, promoting local fruits and vegetables in school lunches, and helping pay for efficiency improvements for maple sugarmakers, grants for maple research, and opening state lands to maple sugaring.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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O’Hagan case: Fletcher sentenced to 15 years, eight months

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day.  Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day. Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

by Bethany M. Dunbar

RUTLAND — A suspect in the 2010 murder of Mary Pat O’Hagan of Sheffield was sentenced in U.S. District Court hereTuesday to 15 years and eight months in prison for producing child pornography.  Once Richard Fletcher, 26, of Sheffield, serves his jail time he will face a lifetime of supervised release under a long list of strict conditions.

Chief Judge Christina Reiss ruled that she had been convinced by a “preponderance of the evidence” — after two days of testimony — that Mr. Fletcher was, in fact, involved in cleaning up the crime scene at Ms. O’Hagan’s home after she was murdered almost three years ago, and that he offered the use of his truck to move the body.  Soon after that, he had the truck crushed.

The child pornography and murder cases are completely unrelated, but the sentencing for the first one was overshadowed in the two-day sentencing hearing by testimony about the murder.

Federal prosecutors made an effort to take over where state prosecutors left off in punishing someone for the murder of the beloved grandmother in Sheffield.

The state prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire, has said the state does not have enough evidence to prove Mr. Fletcher’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt — the higher standard that would be needed to charge and convict him for homicide in state court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow had asked the federal judge to consider increasing the sentencing guidelines for child porn, which calls for a 15-year minimum sentence.  The charge was that he met a 12-year-old girl from Utah online and convinced her to send him pornographic photos of herself from her cell phone.

Federal sentencing rules allow the judges to consider all sorts of information about the defendant’s past, including criminal activity for which the person has not been convicted.

Mr. Darrow asked the judge to add five years to Mr. Fletcher’s minimum 15-year sentence — based on his alleged involvement in Ms. O’Hagan’s murder.

It was an effort that failed.  While the judge ruled that she was convinced of Mr. Fletcher’s involvement, she was not convinced that the sentencing guidelines should be increased due to that factor.

Instead, she sentenced him to the highest possible sentence within the guideline, which was 15 years and eight months. That sentence will not start until Mr. Fletcher has served the rest of a state sentence for unrelated crimes.  That sentence runs until February of 2016.

Many of the O’Hagan family members sat through two days of sentencing in hopes that, in their minds, justice would be done.  To that end, they said after Tuesday’s hearing, they felt “outraged and appalled.”

“Obviously we think our mother’s worth a lot more than eight months,” said her son Matt O’Hagan.

One of the judge’s decisions was that the O’Hagan family would not be allowed to testify as victims.

“It’s not that it’s not important,” Judge Reiss said.  “It would abuse my discretion.”

The O’Hagans said they were disappointed but would not give up, and they would continue to follow the court process.  Two other men prosecutors believe were involved in Ms. O’Hagan’s face unrelated charges.

The O’Hagans also made a plea in front of two local television stations and three newspapers for anyone in the Sheffield area who knows anything that hasn’t been presented yet to come forward.  If no more evidence is found by September, the three-year statute of limitations will run out on the crime of being an accessory after the fact, such as cleaning up the crime scene.

They also suggested Vermont law should be changed to increase the statute of limitations, or to allow a charge of felony homicide.  That charge could come into play if a person, or a group of people, commit a crime and a killing occurs as part of it. Anyone in the group could face the charge, even if only one of the people pulled the trigger on the gun.

Two other people who prosecutors believe were involved in the death of Ms. O’Hagan are in court for other matters.  On Wednesday, June 12, Michael Norrie, 22, of Sheffield is scheduled for a change of plea for being an unlawful user of controlled substances and knowingly possessing a .22 caliber revolver, knowing or having reason to believe it was stolen.

Vermont State Police did multiple interviews with Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Norrie, and Mr. Norrie’s brother Keith Baird, 31, who is charged in state court with 48 counts of violating an abuse prevention order and being an habitual offender.

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The court heard tapes of police interviews with Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Norrie, including confessions.  A corrections officer, Katina Farnsworth, testified that Mr. Fletcher had told her he’d been involved in the O’Hagan death and wanted to get it off his chest.

Also testifying was an inmate who had been Mr. Fletcher’s cellmate.  The inmate, Aaron Smith, said he had talked to both Mr. Norrie and Mr. Fletcher about the O’Hagan murder.

Mr. Smith, who is awaiting sentencing on a charge of receiving child pornography, testified that he was hoping his cooperation in this case would help him get a lighter sentence in his own case.

“Mr. Smith has a lot on the line here, but since I’m the sentencing judge, I’m aware of that,” said Chief Judge Reiss.

She said she would take his motivation into consideration.

Mr. Smith went through a detailed description of Mr. Fletcher’s confession to him about what had happened.

“He was concerned that Norrie was going to spill his guts,” said Mr. Smith.  “Even though he was extremely proud that there was no evidence.”

As outlined by Mr. Smith, Ms. O’Hagan was accidentally killed by Mr. Norrie, who shot her while the other two were robbing her house.  Mr. Fletcher cleaned up the crime scene, and the others used his truck to get rid of her body.

Mr. Fletcher’s attorney, Karen Shingler, cross-examined Mr. Smith about the charges against him, including describing some of the images and videos police had found on his computer.

Once testimony was done, the judge asked Mr. Fletcher if he had anything he’d like to say.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for my crimes your honor,” he said.

The O’Hagans said they hope the memory of their mother will shine through in all of this, a woman who was a pillar of the community.

“There’s a lot of people just like her,” Terry O’Hagan said, noting that the reason his mother even knew Mr. Fletcher was because she had helped him with an adult education class.

“She was helping Richard Fletcher get his GED,” he said.

He said the community of Sheffield and the surrounding towns have been so good to the family, he is glad at least that the names of the perpetrators are now known at least.  It will mean even if they don’t spend time in jail for this, people will know who they are, he said.

“They know what to look out for,” he said.

Matt O’Hagan thanked the Vermont State Police for their two years of efforts and for the help of the press.

“You left us to our privacy when we asked it, and we appreciate that,” he said.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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O’Hagan case: Police testify about homicide confessions

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day.  Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day. Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle June 5, 2013
RUTLAND — Vermont Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire told a federal judge last week she does not have enough evidence, at this time, to prosecute Richard Fletcher in Vermont District Court for killing Mary Pat O’Hagan more than two years ago.

Yet much of the rest of the day was spent in a “condensed homicide case,” as the federal prosecutor put it, in United States District Court here.

On its face, the sentencing hearing was meant to determine how much time Mr. Fletcher should spend in jail for creating, receiving, and possessing child pornography.  But prosecutors argued that he should serve more time for that offense if he was also involved in an unrelated killing.

In a complicated twist of the rules of sentencing in two different court systems, Chief Judge Christina Reiss of the U.S. District Court told attorneys in court on Wednesday, May 29, that she would listen to evidence of the homicide.

“The law is fairly firm,” she said, that she can consider this evidence.  “I am less convinced as to how it can be used.”

Ms. O’Hagan was a beloved grandmother and community volunteer who lived in Sheffield.  She was 78 years old when she was killed.  She was missing for a month before her body was found in the woods in the next town.

Mr. Fletcher is 26 years old and lives in Sheffield.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow has yet to spell out a recommended sentence to the court, but he has asked the judge to consider a longer jail term based on criminal activity Mr. Fletcher was likely involved in — even though he has never been charged for it or convicted of it.

In a lengthy sentencing memorandum filed May 17, Mr. Darrow spells out the evidence to suggest that Mr. Fletcher and Michael Norrie, 22, also of Sheffield both had a part in the death and disposal of the body of Ms. O’Hagan on September 10, 2010.  The memo says Mr. Fletcher knew details of the crime scene and the scene where the body was found that were not known by anyone but police and the killers.  It also includes Mr. Fletcher’s confession, although the descriptions of the events of the night Ms. O’Hagan died vary considerably from interview to interview.

The sentencing memo says that including information about the homicide is legal in federal sentencing, where the U.S. Attorney must only have a preponderance of the evidence to talk about the past behavior of a defendant.  To get a homicide conviction in state court, the prosecutors would need to meet a higher standard of proof — guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing guidelines in federal district court are not mandatory.  But in order for a judge to increase a sentence beyond the guidelines, the judge must do a guideline analysis.

In Mr. Fletcher’s defense, Attorney Karen Shingler said even if the guidelines are not increased, her client is looking at 21 years in jail.  That is because Mr. Fletcher is already serving time for other unrelated charges, so he cannot get credit for time served for those until February 2016.  That means a 15-year sentence would keep him in jail until 2031.

The judge decided to divide the sentencing hearing into two parts.  The first was about the child pornography case.  The second part of the sentencing — testimony about the murder of Pat O’Hagan — started on May 29 but was not finished.  The judge set June 11 to hear the rest of the testimony.

Child pornography

On November 17, 2011, a grand jury passed a seven-count indictment for child pornography.  Charges include production, receipt and possession of child pornography.  Mr. Darrow says Mr. Fletcher found a 12-year-old girl who lived in Utah online while he was at home on furlough from other convictions.  He told her he loved her and would be her boyfriend, and convinced her to take pornographic pictures of herself on her cell phone to send to him.  He told her that he would kill himself if she didn’t do it. He sent her photos of himself with a gun to his own head, according to court records.

Ms. Shingler described Mr. Fletcher, 24 years old at the time, as “a very immature kid.”

Mr. Darrow said Mr. Fletcher was not a kid, as he had already been convicted of aggravated assault for threatening to kill a man with a shotgun, and another charge of assault for threatening a woman with a knife.  He was on furlough when he committed this crime, which, the attorney said, is why the sentences must be served after ones he is already serving — not at the same time.

Mr. Fletcher’s 12-year-old victim is now 15, and she flew to Vermont from Utah to testify.  A slight, soft-spoken teenager, she walked to the podium and read a prepared statement.  She said she met “Richie” online when she was in the middle of a hard time in her own life.  Her mother was quite sick, and her father had his own issues.  Mr. Fletcher gave her attention she needed at the time.

“He acted like he cared about me and made me feel important,” she said.  “He would listen when I needed to talk about all the things that were happening in my life.  The hardest thing now is coming to grips with the fact it wasn’t a sincere relationship. The relationship alienated me from my parents at a time when I really needed to be close to them.”

She said he called her all the time when she was in school and made it hard to focus, and he called her at night and kept her awake all night talking to him.  “The worst part was the pressure he put on me to send him pictures of myself,” she said.  “I was scared and overwhelmed.  I was only 12 at the time, so this was definitely not what I should have been dealing with.  I didn’t do any of the things a normal kid my age was doing.”

“Today is the first time I have ever seen Richie in person.  Part of me still wants to believe he is the person I got to know online, but the bigger part of me knows he is not.  It makes me both sad and very angry.  I hope he never has the chance to hurt anyone else the way he hurt me and my family.”

Ms. Shingler argued that the case is a run-of-the-mill child pornography case and much smaller than many.

“This is a production case, small p,” she said.  Mr. Fletcher received six images, did not share them with anyone, did not obtain money for them or put them online, she said.

Judge Reiss dismissed one of the seven counts in the case, saying that a person cannot be convicted of both receiving and possessing the same piece of pornography.  Mr. Darrow has filed a motion to reconsider, saying the receipt and possession charges stemmed from different times.  The possession count was for owning the pornography more than a week after Mr. Fletcher received it.

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010. Photo by Joseph Gresser

Homicide

Ms. O’Hagan’s sons, a nephew, and others were on hand for the sentencing hearing.  At the end of the long court day, they came out to give a brief statement to the press.

“We were hoping that it would have been resolved today,” said Matt O’Hagan.  “It’s been two and a half years for us.  So another couple of weeks, we can wait.  This is a new process to us.”

He added, “We’re hoping for a positive outcome.”

For much of the afternoon the family watched as police investigators took the stand.  They then listened and watched as tapes of police interviews were played in their entirety, a prerogative Ms. Shingler asked for in order to put Mr. Fletcher’s confessions into context — and possibly to raise issues of whether or not the confessions were legal.

“We’re not saying that the state of Vermont will never bring a murder charge against Mr. Fletcher,” said Mr. Darrow.  “We’re saying it is not likely,” given the current state of the evidence.

“Would you then ask me to resentence Mr. Fletcher?” asked the judge.  She asked if Mr. Darrow wanted a split sentence — one for child pornography with a specified amount of extra time tacked on for homicide.

“I would have to carve off a portion of the sentence,” she said.

Mr. Darrow said he did not expect a two-part sentence with a certain amount of time set for the homicide.  Should Mr. Fletcher ever get convicted of homicide, the sentencing judge could consider running the homicide sentence concurrently with the existing sentence, Mr. Darrow said.  (In other words, the sentences could be served at the same time.)

Lieutenant J.P. Sinclair of the State Police was the first to take the stand.  He is the forensic liaison with the crime lab and was in charge of the team at the crime scene.  He described the crime scenes at Ms. O’Hagan’s home and an old class-four road in Wheelock where the body was found later.

Ms. O’Hagan was shot in the head with a small-caliber gun.

Photos of the scenes were displayed on television monitors around the courtroom, but a photo of O’Hagan’s body was not shown during the hearing May 29.

Ms. Shingler argued that it was not necessary.

“It proves nothing, supports nothing that is in dispute,” she said.  She said the prejudicial impact of showing it outweighs any advantage.  Mr. Darrow said the condition of the body is an issue in the case, as are items at the scene where she was found. The judge suggested the attorneys could stipulate that the body is, indeed, Ms. O’Hagan.

State Police Detective Sergeant Jason Letourneau testified about interviews with Mr. Fletcher, in which he described details of the scenes that were not known publically.  In the first interview, Mr. Fletcher said he’d heard things about the crime scene and that he knew rumors were going around town about him and Michael Norrie.

“She was shot, killed, and supposedly raped.  That’s what I heard,” Mr. Fletcher told police.  “I heard there was a shot in the ceiling.”

Police had released no details of the scene, and in fact, there was a shot in the ceiling and Ms. O’Hagan had been shot.  Her body was left with no pants or underpants on, and it was not buried.

Mr. Fletcher was interviewed three times, and during one of the interviews, police seem to badger him and say they know he is not telling the truth.  In a second one, police spend a half an hour before the interview asking him for advice fixing a clutch in a vehicle, even asking him to look at a photo of the problem on the officer’s cell phone.

“I think it’s important for the judge to understand the kind of professional tactics that were used,” said Ms. Shingler.

“I don’t think it was your idea,” says one of the officers interviewing Mr. Fletcher in the second interview.  “Did you try to help her?  Was she already dead?”

“I got sucked into it,” says Mr. Fletcher at one point.  “I’m not wearing a wire,” he says later in response to a suggestion by the officers that he could help them convict Mr. Norrie.

A video interview with Mr. Norrie shows him weeping and almost incoherent.

In the first interview, Mr. Fletcher says he has heard things but doesn’t admit being on the scene.  In later interviews he says he helped Mr. Norrie dispose of the body.  He says Mr. Norrie shot Ms. O’Hagan accidentally during a robbery.

“When I left, she was standing there alive,” he says at one point.  Then he says he heard two gunshots.

To put the statements in perspective, the officer says he interviewed about 800 people who said they had information about the case, and no one mentioned the gunshot in the ceiling except Mr. Fletcher.

Police took him to the O’Hagan house, asking him to show them how he found the body and the crime scene.  He said he saw an end table tipped over (which was the same end table that had been actually tipped over) and described where Ms. O’Hagan’s body was.

The judge asked to hear directly from the state prosecutor, who told Judge Reiss that the state had very little physical and forensic evidence:  no seminal fluid, no blood, and no firearms directly linked to the case.

Ms. Shingler said she wanted the judge to hear the entire tapes of some of the interviews because she believes there are issues about whether or not they are admissible.

“The April 11 interview which we have yet to hear… has some clear Miranda violations,” she said.  Mr. Darrow said the fourth and fifth amendments would not be applicable in this case.

Testimony will continue on June 11.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Jon Somes creates hair and skin product line

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Jon Somes.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jon Somes. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 3-20-2013

NEWPORT — In a culmination of years of creative process, Jon Somes of Newport is now selling hair and skin care products in his salon, under a label with his own name on it.

“It had been on my mind for years and years,” he said in an interview at the salon Friday.  In 2006 he started thinking about it seriously and looking for the right chemist.  He found someone in Oregon and has been working on the recipes ever since.

These recipes aren’t something you can cook up in a regular kitchen.

He tried to find someone in Vermont, but he could not find the right person or lab.  So for now, the products are shipped in bulk to Vermont and bottled and labeled here.  If sales quantities justify a change in the future, he will set up a lab to make it here too and possibly create local jobs.

But for now he’s just really glad to have finally settled on the right recipes and be able to offer his products for sale — at the shop or from his website.

“At first I was just going to do shampoos and conditioners,” he said.  But he decided that facial products are also really important for someone’s overall look.

He read a lot about various ingredients and tried lots of combinations before settling on the right mixtures.  One important ingredient for skin is hyaluronic acid, which was originally made of roosters’ combs.  These days the same ingredient is made in a lab with a fermenting process.

The ingredients are 83 to 93 percent organic, but Mr. Somes said he finds that completely organic shampoos and conditioners have a tendency to leave hair somewhat too dry, not shiny, and staticy — especially in winter in Vermont with wood stoves drying out the indoor air in a lot of homes.

Getting the right fragrance for the shampoos and conditioners was another whole process.

“I had a feeling about how I wanted it to smell,” he said.  He found a perfumery in Pennsylvania that was able to help him come up with scents that he had described to them, with ingredients he wanted.  Some of the ingredients are amber, citron, and mandarin.

He said it should have one scent when it first comes out of the bottle and hits the air in the shower, and another one later after one’s hair is dry.

“There’s undertones to it,” he said.

He’s had the products in the shop for a while already, long enough to get some reaction from clients.  The very first person he used the shampoo and conditioner on immediately mentioned it.

She said, “I don’t know what this is, but I love this.”

He said he’s pretty sure many of his clients are enjoying the products.  If they had only bought one bottle he might think they were trying to be polite, but they have been coming back for more.

The products are expensive due to the expense of some of the ingredients.  One of the ingredients, argon oil, is critically important and only comes from Morocco.

Mr. Somes said once the perfumery had put together the fragrance he wanted, the people there gave him some feedback that really pleased him.  They told him the fragrance could be a perfume, not just a shampoo.  Their comments were:

“A sophisticated, modern, fine fragrance type, opening with a citrusy sparkle of citron and mandarin, leading to a floral heart of night blooming jasmine, ylang ylang, vetiver and rose, and finishing with an ambery, mossy, patchouli, sandalwood and then an exotic, spicy dry-down.”

Mr. Somes has just finished his website:  www.jonsomes.com/index.php.  It’s getting some attention already on the Internet.  He doesn’t know where this will take him, but he’s extremely happy with the products themselves.

“I had an idea that manifested into an incredible finished product,” he said, and having it done is completely satisfying.  “My intention was to make the very best thing possible.”

The Jon Somes Salon has been on Main Street in Newport for three years and draws clients from out of state and Canada.  Mr. Somes had a salon in Derby Line in the late ’90s until 2001, then spent some time out west.

He started in his career as a hairstylist after working in real estate and marketing and deciding he wanted a change to something more personal.  He studied hairstyling in Paris, and he has been a stylist for 25 years.  He serves on the Vermont Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.

He grew up in New York and Michigan.  When he was working in Taos, New Mexico, his reputation as a hairstylist grew to the point where film industry clients sought him out.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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In Memoriam: Maureen O’Donnell July 6, 1952 – December 11, 2012

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maureen memoriam

Maureen O’Donnell at home in Albany, with her 1959 Melody Maker guitar. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Iconic and ironic, O’Donnell releases Rogue Element

This article first appeared in the Chronicle in 2009.  It is republished here in her memory.

by Bethany M. Dunbar

ALBANY — In these days of excitement about renewable energy, it just might be the perfect moment for Maureen O’Donnell to release her new compact disc.

Years ago, Ms. O’Donnell was a local celebrity as part of a band called the BTUs.  The BTUs rocked out at the Valley House in Orleans and other local venues, back in the days when dancing was the preferred weekend aerobic exercise in the Kingdom.

“We were ironic as hell and iconic,” says Ms. O’Donnell, when the timing is pointed out to her.

Ms. O’Donnell has been making music by singing and with a guitar and harmonica and other instruments since she was a small child.  She remembers thinking that someday she would get rich and have a place in the country.  It’s all true except for the rich part (so far).

This is the introduction from Ms. O’Donnell’s notes to be included with her new compact disc, Rogue Element.

“Listening to another ‘final mix’ thru JBL’s in a 20’ X 24’ room with a large window view of beautiful meadows, free of all traces of human endeavor.  A moose gazing in at me, so close I could count the flies on her magnificent mouth.  Fifty or so wild turkeys strutting in a line through the yard; crows cackling, calling; hawk soaring, swooping, elegant, effortless in the totality of its being, nothing more, nothing less.”

The cover photo is Ms. O’Donnell practicing — not with her guitar.  She is shown in a black T-shirt and cap, ear and eye protection in place, holding — with what appears to be complete comfort — a rather large rifle.  The photo was taken by David Bradshaw, a shooting friend.

Ms. O’Donnell’s album could be described as rock or folk, alternative, or something like that.  She has written all the songs except for “Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen, which was recorded live with the Reused Blues Band at Burlington City Hall.

Ms. O’Donnell’s voice is, on some tracks, Bonnie Raitt-esque.  It’s full of soul and life, and life experience.  It’s less frightening and more forgiving than the cover art.

She produced the CD herself.  Its sound is homegrown and authentic.  On the intro, she puts it this way:

“This slim collection represents my first solo process relying almost entirely upon my own skills (or lack thereof), as writer, musician, engineer, producer, singer, objective witness and executioner…

“Honest and raw as November, sonic imperfection becomes part of the charm of this offering, no opting for technical preciousness.”

At age four, Ms. O’Donnell first saw a Telecaster guitar and remembers it in perfect detail.

“It was kind of a blondish vanilla with a white maple neck, and I was just gone.  I didn’t want anything else ever,” she said.

One issue right away when she was growing up was that girls did back up.  Ms. O’Donnell had talent, but people kept telling her “chicks didn’t play lead.”

They wanted to put her in tall, white go-go boots and a short skirt with a tambourine.  She said she thought she would prefer her Carhartts.

“When I saw the Beatles, I wanted to be one.  I didn’t want to marry one,” she said.

The Beatles were a huge influence on her because it seemed possible for music to be a career.

“All of a sudden you knew you didn’t have to go to home ec.  You knew you didn’t have to be Betty Crocker or a Barbie Doll.”

Ms. O’Donnell grew up in Brookfield, Connecticut, which she said was — in those days — a lot like Vermont is now.

“It was a great place to be a kid,” she said.

“The Moody Blues were my parents,” she said.  It might be a slight exaggeration, but her actual parents were dysfunctional and abusive.  Her mother was married six times, her father was married four times, and they married each other twice.  Ms. O’Donnell went to ten high schools due to her parents’ moving around.  Her father was a Teamster.  She got into drugs at age 15.

But music kept her interest.

“When I was ten I joined the drum corps,” she said.  She learned drumming from a man named Earl Sturtz, who was drum champion 36 years in a row.  He had an “impeccable sense of meter,” and she soaked it up.

She dropped out of school but was reading voraciously.  She would go to college campuses and argue Nietzsche and Kierkegaard with the students and professors.  She tended bar in a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and met a band there called Spiral Country because all the songs were written in a spiral notebook.  She joined them, they got on the radio and got fan mail from all over — including truck drivers in Colorado.

She came to Vermont with a former lover who was going to Goddard.  Ms. O’Donnell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and theater from Goddard.

“She and I had done a lot of feminist theater,” Ms. O’Donnell said, including at Yale Drama School.  She found more music in Vermont.

“Denny Clifford taught me the fundamentals of how to do the dobro,” she said.  And then there were the BTUs.

She recently went back to Ohio and got to play with old friends and some up-and-coming musicians, including one woman she had mentored out there years ago.  The shows were a blast — 1,000-seat venues, some with a packed house.

“I always knew I was meant to be on the big stage,” he said.  “I made good use of it.  I didn’t just stand there.”

Music has kept her going in hard times and good times.

“It’s just really nice to feel that you have something in your life that gives you a sense of self-respect and dignity, that you have something to offer the world,” she said.

“The tunes on this album kind of picked me,” she said.  “I was really shocked at the serendipity.”

She said she used to “push the river” a lot because of her own aggression and compulsion, but these days she’s trying, with some success, to let the music just come through.

“Now I’ve learned to empty yourself out and get out of your own way,” she said.

Ms. O’Donnell has a web site at http://InHouseMediaWorks.com, and by April 15 Rogue Element will be available for sale through CDBaby.com.  Anyone interested can also reach her by snail mail (1535 Creek Road, Irasburg, Vermont 05845) or e-mail (dragon52@localnet.com).

“The response to the CD has been amazing, considering so far it’s only been word of mouth,” she said.

“I wanted to just thank everyone for remembering.”

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

An obituary of Maureen O’Donnell appears here: /bartonchronicle.com/category/obituaries/

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Featuring pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital  editions.

 

 

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