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.
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 [email protected]