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.

Five television stations and half a dozen newspapers were on hand for the arraignment in Vermont Superior Court in Caledonia County, along with O’Hagan family members, neighbors and friends.

A 31-page affidavit submitted by Sergeant Jason Letourneau of the Vermont State Police and signed by Caledonia County State’s Attorney Lisa Warren spells out the state’s case.

In court Monday, Richard Fletcher denied charges of murder, kidnapping and burglary.  Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.
In court Monday, Richard Fletcher denied charges of murder, kidnapping and burglary. Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.

The affidavit outlines various descriptions of what happened the night of September 10, 2010, as told by Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Norrie, and other witnesses.

It notes that many of the details described by the defendants and witnesses match up with the crime scene and were not known by the general public.

Ms. O’Hagan went missing on September 10, 2010, and her body was found in the woods a month later, on October 3.  She had been shot in the head, and police eventually found a .22 caliber gun that might have been the murder weapon.  The gun had been tossed into a river.  But police only found fragments of the bullet and were unable to match the specific gun with the bullet, forensically.  Interviews with the three defendants led to confessions, but those confessions included several conflicting descriptions of the events of that night.

Much of the evidence, and the descriptions, appeared in federal court in Rutland during sentencing hearings for Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Norrie on unrelated charges.

At that time, federal prosecutors presented evidence from the O’Hagan killing as a way to attempt to get longer sentences.  Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire had said the state did not have enough evidence to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt.  Evidence presented in federal court as part of a sentencing only needed to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower burden of proof.

State’s Attorney Warren said last fall she had asked Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage to take a fresh look at the evidence and consider if there was enough to press murder charges.

According to Sergeant Letourneau’s affidavit, police began investigating Ms. O’Hagan’s disappearance on the morning of September 11, 2010, when a friend discovered Ms. O’Hagan’s home with the door left ajar and television on, an end table moved, and things on the floor.  After investigating, police found a bullet hole in the kitchen ceiling, and marks were found on the floor consistent with shoes sliding — signs of a struggle.

Michael Norrie.  Photo courtesy of Vermont State Police
Michael Norrie. Photo courtesy of Vermont State Police

At that time, Sergeant Eugene Duplissis and his dog Argus scent-tracked Ms. O’Hagan to the abandoned property next door, but her body was not found until October 3 when the owner of a property on a back road in Wheelock found her body, unburied, on his land.

Investigation quickly centered on Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Baird, who are half-brothers, and Mr. Norrie, who is their cousin.

“Several interviews were completed regarding this information,” the affidavit says.  “Through the interviews, Vermont State Police Detectives were told that Norrie, Fletcher, and Baird intended to rob Ms. O’Hagan but it went ‘bad.’  They then kidnapped Ms. O’Hagan, raped her, killed her, and dumped her body in South Wheelock.”

It says Ms. O’Hagan’s body was found with no underwear or pants on, but police could not determine if she had been raped.

“Norrie has been interviewed on at least six different days,” the police affidavit says.  “In each interview, Norrie has given different versions of what took place, and different versions during the same interview.  However, some of the statements that Norrie made during the interviews are things that only the investigators, or the persons involved, would know.”

Mr. Norrie told police he shot Ms. O’Hagan with a .22 caliber gun, according to the affidavit.

“Norrie advised he went into O’Hagan’s house through the front door and looked for pills.  He said O’Hagan walked in, and he heard Fletcher talking to O’Hagan, asking her if she had work for him.  O’Hagan told him that she did not.  Norrie advised that he (Norrie) ‘freaked’ out and shot at her.”

The affidavit says Mr. Norrie said he threw the .22 caliber handgun off the left side of the bridge behind the post office, into the river.

It says the caliber of the bullet was confirmed even though it could not be determined if it was the same gun.  He also described apples on the ground near where the body was dumped, which was accurate.

In one of the interviews, Mr. Norrie said that he and the others were high on crystal meth and were looking for more on the night of the killing.  The affidavit says Mr. Norrie called a dealer to get more that night, and a search of his cell phone records confirm that Mr. Norrie did call the man he said he did.

Elsewhere in the affidavit, a correctional officer is interviewed who said Mr. Fletcher told her that the three of them had a meth lab on Ms. O’Hagan’s property and she found out, which was why they killed her.

A cooperating individual who was interviewed told police the three had a meth lab in the abandoned property next door to Ms. O’Hagan’s house.

Both Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Norrie confessed to police, but Mr. Baird did not.  Instead Mr. Baird told police he was home with his girlfriend and son.

The affidavit says that alibi did not hold up, however.  It says investigation showed Mr. Baird was not staying with the girlfriend he’d mentioned on the night of the murder, he was staying with a different girlfriend, who told police that he left the residence on the night of September 10, 2010, at about 7:15 p.m. and came back at about 2 a.m. wearing different clothes, went to bed fully clothed, and told her to be quiet.  Later the woman asked Mr. Baird a couple of times if he did it, meaning killing Ms. O’Hagan, and he said it was none of her business.

Mr. Norrie is currently serving a four-year-and-eight-month sentence for selling a gun to someone he knew was a drug dealer.  Mr. Fletcher is serving 15 years for producing child pornography.  Mr. Baird is facing charges in state court of 48 counts of violating an abuse prevention order and a separate charge of being an habitual offender.

When Ms. Warren presented her list of people with whom Mr. Baird should not have contact, defense attorney Robert Katims said he had an issue with three of the people on the list.

“Two of those my client has children with,” he said, and one is a grandfather of one of the children.  Others on the list are inmates and correctional officers Mr. Baird might see in prison.

Judge Kathleen Manley said, in those cases, the order will be that Mr. Baird “shall not have intentional contact” with them.

After the hearing, Ms. O’Hagan’s sons said the charges come as a big relief and a first step in a new process.

“It felt good,” said Shawn O’Hagan.  He said the people of Sheffield have been extremely supportive, and the police have been working extremely hard on this.  At one point early in the investigation, he said, he counted 28 officers working on the investigation at once.

“We’re very happy with the local prosecutors,” said Mark O’Hagan.  “Lisa’s done a great job.”  He also particularly thanked Lieutenant Bob Cushing and Sergeant Letourneau and all the State Police.

Mark O’Hagan mentioned that support and special efforts by the town of Sheffield have meant a lot to the family.  In particular, the town dedicated the school playground to his mother’s memory, and a bench was put up with her name on it.

“They’re both lasting things, which is important,” he said.

Ms. O’Hagan’s close friend Dolores Chamberlain of Barton sat through the hearing.  She said she was glad to be there to support the O’Hagan family.  Ms. Chamberlain volunteered with Ms. O’Hagan for the town’s historical society and was in a home demonstration group that did rug hooking.

“She was an outdoor person and had so much energy.  She could run circles around me,” said Ms. Chamberlain.  “Everybody loved her.  She just glowed.  She was such a happy person.”

Ms. Chamberlain said she set such a good example that she changed people, because people wanted to be like her.

“She used to like to sleep on the porch in the summertime,” she said.  “She reminded me of my mother so much.”

Ms. Chamberlain said Ms. O’Hagan was a person who, once she took on a project, would make sure it would happen.  She said Ms. O’Hagan’s mantra was, “Don’t ever give up.”

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]

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