Murder charges brought in O’Hagan killing

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Keith Baird is brought into the Vermont Superior Court in Caledonia County’s criminal division on Monday to face charges of murder, kidnapping, and burglary.  Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.

Keith Baird is brought into the Vermont Superior Court in Caledonia County’s criminal division on Monday to face charges of murder, kidnapping, and burglary. Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.

copyright the Chronicle March 12, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

ST. JOHNSBURY  — Two men have been charged with the murder and kidnapping of Mary Pat O’Hagan, a 78-year-old Sheffield grandmother who was killed three and a half years before the arraignments Monday, to the day.  A third man has been cited.

Keith J. Baird, 33, who is in jail in St. Johnsbury, and Richard Fletcher, 27, who is in jail in Springfield, pled innocent to the charges, which also included burglary, were assigned public defenders, and were sent back to jail and ordered to stay away from 28 specific people, including witnesses, co-defendants, and members of the O’Hagan family.

Michael Norrie, 23, has been cited for the same charges and faces extradition from a prison in Pennsylvania to face the charges.

All three men are from Sheffield.

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Police make arrests in the murder of Pat O’Hagan

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

After three and a half years of investigation by detectives and tips from the public with key information; police said citations were issued in the September 2010 murder of Pat O’Hagan. Richard Fletcher, age 27 of Sheffield, and Keith Baird, age 33 of Sutton (Fletcher’s brother); were both cited for burglary, kidnapping, and first degree murder of Pat O’Hagan. Mr. Baird also faces an additional charge as a habitual offender. Affidavits submitted on Friday, March 7, to the Vermont Superior Court, Caledonia Criminal Division were accepted for probable cause. An arrest warrant has been granted for the arrest of Michael Norrie, age 23 of St. Johnsbury who is being charged with burglary, kidnapping, and first degree murder.

Keith Baird is currently being held at the Northeast Regional Correctional
Center in St. Johnsbury for a lack of bail on multiple counts of violations
of conditions of release, habitual offender, and violations of an abuse
prevention order. Richard Fletcher is a Vermont inmate housed at a
correctional facility in Kentucky; although he was recently brought back to
Vermont and is being held at southern Vermont facility center in
Springfield serving a sentence for sexual exploitation of a minor. Michael
Norrie is serving a sentence in federal jail in Pennsylvania on federal gun
crimes.

Baird and Fletcher will be arraigned on the above listed charges on Monday, March 10, 2014, at 12:30PM. The arrest warrant obtained for Norrie will start the process of his extradition back to Vermont.

Pat O’Hagan was last seen on September 10, 2010. Her body was found nearly four weeks later on Horn Road in Wheelock, Vermont, on October 3, 2010; approximately ten miles from her home at 3064 Route 122 in Sheffield.

The Vermont State Police extend their appreciation to the Sheffield
community, Vermonters, and the media for their help and dedication in
keeping Pat O’Hagan’s memory alive.

Questions regarding the case should be directed to the Caledonia County
State’s Attorney. – from Vermont State Police.

To read a related story from past coverage, click here.

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In Barton: Shooting strikes the heart of two communities

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Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Carlton Bickford, 76, a retired electrician and well-liked longtime Glover resident, shambled into court in shackles Monday and pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of 72-year-old Rachel Coburn of Barton, who Mr. Bickford told police was his “girlfriend.”

Mr. Bickford, who has health and hearing problems, could not initially hear the court proceedings, and arrangements were made for a hearing device before the arraignment continued.

He will be held without bail, although public defender Jill Jourdan argued that he has a wife at home, children in the community, no prior criminal record and should be released on strict conditions and a $100,000 bond with $10,000 down.

The evidence of guilt is great, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen said as he ordered Mr. Bickford to return to prison in St. Johnsbury, where he will be held pending resolution of a case that has flatly shocked all those who know the accused and the victim.

What Mr. Bickford told police about what happened on Friday, the day of the shooting, is sometimes confused.  More than once he allegedly said he was worried that Ms. Coburn wanted to end their relationship, and if he couldn’t have her no one would.  He also said he feared Ms. Coburn would turn him in to police for threatening her, or for attempted murder, although he did not explain why she would accuse him of the latter.

He said there had never been violence between the two until that day.

Ms. Coburn, 72, worked in the cafeteria at Lake Region Union High School for about ten years.  Before that, she and her late husband, Lewis, owned Barton Cleaners until 2002 when it closed.  She’s described as a happy, hard-working, young-at-heart person.

“She was a really warm and friendly woman,” said Nicole Libby, Lake Region’s food service manager.  “She always had that smile on her face.  She was looking to try to make people happy.  She was a very thorough worker, and she had a wonderful, close relationship with a lot of the students.  A lot of the kids are really devastated by this.  She had a way of connecting with kids.

“Everybody is just floored,” Ms. Libby said.  “I had a great time working with her.  It just isn’t real.  She was one of those happy people; she just wanted to live life.”

Mr. Bickford turned himself in to the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon, allegedly saying he had just killed his girlfriend with a shotgun following an argument.  He said he had then tried to kill himself, but only managed to graze his shoulder.  He allegedly told police they would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her house, along with two bullet holes in the ceiling from his unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself.

Both the accused and the victim have an extensive network of friends and family that is intertwined, and that has contributed to the grief and bafflement that follows the tragedy.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” said Butch Currier of Glover, who has been friends with Mr. Bickford since the 1960s.  “I’m just dumfounded.  I don’t know why, and everybody else is wracking their brain trying to think of some reason why.  I even woke up the next morning and wondered if I’d had a bad dream.  I didn’t believe it.”

Mr. Currier said he has sugared with Mr. Bickford for 20 years.  “He did all my boiling for me.  We’ve done a lot together, fished, rabbit hunted, owned property together.  I just can’t say anything bad about him.  He was always funny, always doing something to make you laugh.”

The killing was doubly painful for Mr. Currier.  Rachel Coburn was his aunt.

“Again, you can’t get anybody to say anything bad about Rachel,” Mr. Currier said.  “She was happy go lucky.  She had four kids, loved her kids, her grandkids.”

State Police Detective Sergeant David Petersen’s affidavit describes a confused and distraught man who had been crying when he showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon.  It also describes an extramarital relationship that started about four years ago when Mr. Bickford was doing some electrical work for Ms. Coburn.

The relationship, which Mr. Bickford said was nonsexual and “the least of what he wanted” when it started, was apparently on the rocks and went very wrong earlier on Friday.

Shortly after Mr. Bickford showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department, Officer Brandon Thrailkill notified State Police.  Mr. Bickford allegedly told Detective Petersen that he would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her West Street home in the hallway near the cellar stairs.

“…he started to tear up and said it was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life,” the detective’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford said he’d had an argument Friday morning with Ms. Coburn, with whom he’d had a romantic relationship that his wife and son were aware of.  He said the two mostly drank coffee and played cribbage.  His wife had talked to Ms. Coburn about the trouble the relationship was causing.

Rachel Coburn.

Rachel Coburn.

He’d gone to Ms. Coburn’s about 8:30 Friday morning with his usual coffee and newspaper.  An argument had ensued, but he said he thought he could work things out.  A couple of hours later he left, thinking he could “think it over and keep things clear in his mind,” court records say.

When police asked if the argument was about ending the relationship, Mr. Bickford was initially vague, saying he did not think so, but perhaps Ms. Coburn had.  Later, he indicated that his distress was due, in part, to her wish to stop seeing him, the affidavit says.

He returned later that morning with a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun, which he told police he’d taken from his son’s house so his wife would not see him taking a gun from their own house.  When police interviewed Mr. Bickford’s wife, Mary Jane, she said that the guns at their house were locked up, and she had hidden the key.

Mr. Bickford apparently made no bones about the threat of violence when he returned to Ms. Coburn’s house that morning.  He said he loaded the gun in the driveway and put it on the stove while the two continued to talk.

“When asked if he made any threats to use the gun, C. Bickford remarked something to the effect of ‘I don’t know; I probably did to the point of if I couldn’t have her nobody’s ever,’” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford also told police he believed Ms. Coburn was going to turn him in for attempted murder and suggested he had no alternative but to kill her, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

In the midst of the couple’s second conversation that morning, the phone rang.  Mr. Bickford told Ms. Coburn not to answer, but when she made a dash for it, “that’s when I shot her,” he allegedly told police.

He did not want Ms. Coburn to answer the phone because “she was going to seek help,” court records say.

“She tried to get by me once to get out the door and I wouldn’t let her and then when the phone rung I just told her don’t answer the phone,” Mr. Bickford allegedly told police.  “Visit with me.  And she made one wild dash to go to the phone.  I guess that was it.”

“No, I didn’t intend to kill her,” he said, according to the affidavit.  “But when she started threatening me with having me arrested and all of that, I don’t know, I didn’t have much choice.”

He told police that when he returned with the gun, “I didn’t know just what was going to happen, but I wanted to be in control.”

He allegedly told Detective Petersen that he had “nothing to gain from shooting Coburn and should have walked away from the whole setup.”

Mr. Bickford said he believed he shot Ms. Coburn in the abdomen and chest area from a distance of ten or 15 feet, and he did not check on her after shooting her because he knew she was dead, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

A babysitter at a neighbor’s house that day told police she heard two loud bangs, but did not see anything or anyone.  She said it sounded like someone was moving furniture.

Mr. Bickford told police that, at first, he had no intention of using the shotgun, but said that Ms. Coburn “ran her mouth about me using her the way I had been using her, and she was probably correct.”  He said he believed Ms. Coburn would find a way to “put him away for threatening her.”

“The lady’s dead.  I shot her and I’m guilty as hell,” he told Detective Petersen, according to the affidavit.

In a later interview that evening, Mr. Bickford told police Ms. Coburn had told him he could “get out.”

“He further noted, upon returning to Coburn’s house he told Coburn if I couldn’t have her nobody was going to,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

“I was 100 percent wrong,” he told police.

Mr. Bickford frequently expressed remorse as he talked to police.  At one point, he said he would do anything to bring Ms. Coburn back, “but it was too late.”

“C. Bickford remarked he had more problems now than he did before,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.  It goes on to say that Mr. Bickford said he “wished he could go back and change the past.”

After the shooting, Mr. Bickford told police, he drove around Orleans and Caledonia counties for a while then went to the village office in Lyndonville, which he believed was the police station.  There he was given directions to the police station, where he turned himself in.

The murder has pretty much consumed the thoughts of many who knew the two.

“When I saw it on Facebook, I thought it was a hoax,” said Sue Squires of Glover.  “My mouth started getting wide open.  I’ve known Carlton all my life.  I don’t understand it.  He’d help you out in any way he could.”

“When you think of Carlton, you think of Carlton as a joker and with a smile on his face,” said Sharon Bickford.  “It’s such a tragedy.  You just sit here in a whirlwind trying to make something of it.

“I’ve known Rachel all my life,” Mrs. Bickford said.  “She was a nice lady, very friendly, cordial, always had a smile on her face, very personable.  She just loved life.  For everybody that knew both of them it’s an awful shock, for the whole community.”

Family and friends are simply trying to process the tragedy, Mrs. Bickford said.  “Never in a dog’s age, never, that’s not him,” she said about the charge against Mr. Bickford.

“What to hell happened?” Mr. Currier said.  “Chances are I’ll never see Carlton again.  Without a doubt I won’t.”

He said he wonders if the multiple medications Mr. Bickford took for a variety of health problems may have affected him.

Conviction on a first-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 35 years to life.

Mr. Bickford was denied the services of a public defender.  Judge VanBenthuysen said that because of his assets and income, he would have to retain an attorney himself.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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In Westfield: Police have suspect in homicide

Peter Lavalette.

Peter Lavalette.

by Paul Lefebvre 

WESTFIELD — A movie set carpenter for major films and a part-time resident here is believed to be the victim of a recent homicide in this town of roughly 500 people.

State Police are not releasing the name of the deceased, but neighbors say he is George Kouzoujian, who has lived off and on in town for the last two or three years, and reportedly kept an apartment in New York City.

Next-door neighbor Randall Brenner said in an interview that a State Trooper came to his house around 5:30 Tuesday morning to tell him “George was deceased.”

However, when Mr. Brenner raised a question about safety, the trooper told him security was not a concern.

Police are releasing few details except to say that a suspect, Peter Lavalette, 49, of Derby is being held in custody after he was stopped for a traffic violation in Indiana shortly after midnight Tuesday.

According to a State Police press release, a call from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department alerted Vermont authorities at 12:49 Tuesday morning that they had arrested Mr. Lavalette after he allegedly “indicated he was involved in a homicide in Vermont.”

The release goes on to say that he is being held on a “felony warrant for homicide, pending extradition back to Vermont.”

The state’s chief medical examiner was expected to perform an autopsy Tuesday to determine the cause of death.

Mr. Kouzoujian lived at the end of Fuller Road, a dirt road, in a small, two-story blue house that at one o’clock Tuesdayafternoon appeared to be an active crime scene with a mobile State Police laboratory parked in the yard, its swinging back doors open to the house.

Two State Police cruisers were parked nearby along with a silver crew club pickup.  A trooper standing in the road just beyond the neighbor’s driveway stopped traffic from proceeding any further.  Four or more people in white forensic-type clothing were seen walking on the grounds.

Although police are withholding the deceased’s identity until the autopsy is completed and the next-of-kin have been contacted, neighbors and store clerks in town expressed shock and surprise over the death of the man that most knew by the name of George.

“He was very friendly but not close,” said Mary Brenner, who along with her husband, Randy, moved from Washington D.C. to Westfield 16 years ago.

“That’s why we like it back here, to have peace of mind,” she said, while sitting on the back porch with her husband watching the ongoing investigation up the road.

She said Mr. Kouzoujian had spent most of the winter away and had only returned to Westfield in May.

“He said he had been working his butt off so he could have his summer off,” she recalled, as she continued to praise him as a good neighbor and someone who was always busy with projects around the house.

At the Westfield General Store, Mr. Kouzoujian was evidently a familiar and friendly face.

“We’re still in shock,” said the store owner, who declined to give her name.

“He was a quirky little fellow, you know what I mean?” offered Sue Dunne, a clerk at the store.

On the Internet, Mr. Kouzoujian is listed as a union carpenter in the New York Production Guide.  According to a listing posted in the New York Times, he was a carpenter in several films and a construction foreman in the movie Crocodile Dundee.

Ms. Dunne noted that he used to come into the store and show off the carpenter work he had been doing on movie sets, including a recent job he had done for Russell Crowe’s new movie, Noah.

Mr. Kouzoujian had recently been in the store, and Ms. Dunne was still struggling to come to terms with his tragic and untimely demise.

“Things don’t happen like this around here,” she said, before catching herself falling into a cliché.  “Isn’t that what they always say?”

People Tuesday characterized Mr. Kouzoujian as friendly and a nice guy.  Ms. Brenner recalled how he had bought a rototiller from her, although he didn’t really need it.  And then there was the time he fastened a relay to his house that enabled the Brenners to get a better Internet connection.

Still, Ms. Brenner saw her neighbor as something of a loner.  She said he “didn’t look to be the marrying type,” and that he seldom brought friends to his house.

There was one man, though, who was often seen in the company of Mr. Kouzoujian.  Around town Peter Lavalette was considered Mr. Kouzoujian’s handyman.  He reportedly did odds and ends for the deceased, and Ms. Dunne recalled seeing the two of them together a few times.

So did Andy Hass, who runs the hardware store in town.  While he agreed with the other folks in town — in describing Mr. Kouzoujian as a nice guy — he saw another side of him as well.

“He could look like a half-eaten sandwich,” he said, describing a time when Mr. Kouzoujian came into the store, leaving Mr. Lavalette waiting in a parked vehicle.

Apparently, those were the roles each assumed when Mr. Kouzoujian came into town to shop.  Unless called into the hardware store for advice, Mr. Lavalette stayed in the car while Mr. Kouzoujian carried on his business inside.

Ms. Brenner said Mr. Lavalette worked for her neighbor as a laborer, and that he was “in and out all the time.”

Mr. Hass described Mr. Kouzoujian as a “super friendly” customer who was easy to work with in sizing up a job.

He said that when he heard about the death Tuesday morning, it caught him by surprise.  He only knew him by his first name, as Mr. Kouzoujian didn’t keep a slip, preferring instead to pay cash.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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

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