GUILDHALL, VT - Mary J. Taylor, 68, of Island Pond, was found guilty of two charges stemming from an incident that occurred on June 18, 2011, at the Town of Brighton recycling shed where she is employed part time.
Taylor faces a possible sentence of not more than 60 days in jail and not more than a $500 fine or both on the disorderly conduct charge; and not more than 1 year in jail and not more than a $1,000 fine or both on the assault by menace charge. She has not yet been sentenced.
Essex County State’s Attorney Vincent Illuzzi, following an investigation by Brighton Police Chief Jeff Noyes, charged Taylor with two misdemeanors - disorderly conduct and simple assault by menacing - after she allegedly threatened Kathleen Nelson by pointing a stick with nails poking through it at Nelson’s face and eyes.
A jury of twelve men and women deliberated about six hours Thursday in the Guildhall courthouse after listening to a full day of testimony Wednesday.
In opening statements, two different versions of events were offered by the attorneys. The prosecution was going to prove that Nelson was a responsible citizen who had a sharp stick with nails shoved near her face in a threatening manner. The defense was going to show that Nelson had gone to Taylor’s “place of business” to pick a fight. In the end, the jury believed Nelson and Illuzzi proved his case beyond a reasonable doubt in the minds of twelve people who were not connected to the victim, defendant, or case in any way.
During the trial, several events came to light indicating there was plenty of motivation for Taylor to be angry and vengeful towards Nelson. Most recently, both women were noted in an article in the Newport Daily Express published April 11, 2011, which ran a front page story with photo of one of 55 cats eventually seized from Taylor’s home at 3124 Charleston Road in Brighton. The Express story in 2011 noted Taylor had been convicted March 21, 2011 of 39 counts of cruelty to animals.
Kathleen Nelson runs a cat rescue operation based in her home. She was one of several authorities who assisted at the scene during the execution of a search warrant and seizure of the animals in July of 2009.
In the 2011 Express article, Nelson explained that the aftercare costs for Taylor’s cats were a hardship on her but that she somehow continued to find the means to take care of them. As part of that March conviction, Taylor was given a 3-year deferred sentence and probation conditions as part of a plea agreement. The article was presented as an exhibit but was not entered into evidence, as was Brighton Police Chief Jeff Noyes’ affidavit.
The second reason Taylor may have shown animosity towards Nelson, according to the prosecutor, was because Nelson had previously worked as an adult daycare provider, and one of Taylor’s adult children had been placed under Nelson’s care for a period of time about 20 years ago.
Prior to the trial starting however, the judge had ruled both of these facts connecting the two women previously were inadmissable evidence.
The jury ultimately did hear about the 55 cats that were removed from Taylor’s residence, however, and also Nelson’s thoughts on Taylor’s mental stability and motives, from a letter Nelson had sent to the Brighton Selectboard following the altercation. Defendant’s attorney Lium asked Nelson to read aloud from that letter, thereby allowing it to be entered as evidence in the case. At that point Illuzzi said “the defense has opened a door and I intend to walk right through it.”
The only witnesses who testified were town residents Marshall “Marty” Frizzell and his wife Sandy. Frizzell works for a private contractor and is employed as the Town of Brighton water and sewer plant attendant. They happened to bring their own recyclables to the shed that afternoon and arrived on the scene after the altercation occurred.
Mr. Frizzell testified he told Mary Taylor to “put the stick down” and asked Kathleen Nelson to leave the area if she was done recycling. Sandra Frizzell, a teacher in the North Country Supervisory Union District, testified she heard the women yelling at each other and, as a teacher, she would describe Nelson’s behavior as “aggressive and bullying.”
Mary Taylor did not appear to help her case when she testified. When confronted with the newspaper article regarding her conviction of animal cruelty and a photo of one of the cats, she proclaimed, “I don’t know where that cat came from; it wasn’t mine,” and claimed the article was inaccurate. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” she said.
Several times during her testimony, her attorney objected and attempted to reign in her comments.
Illuzzi went on to explain to the jury that Taylor was in denial and disassociated herself from reality and her conduct, and had committed a crime of opportunity and retaliation. Illuzzi further explained to the jury why he was prosecuting the case to the fullest extent: “It’s the same harm as aiming a gun at someone but the bullet misses it’s target; Vermont law expects people to conduct themselves as law abiding citizens.”
“Your role as jury is to not sentence the defendant, and not bring either sympathy or consequences into your decision. Your job is to determine if the evidence presented is corroborated and not disputed.”
Following the guilty verdicts, Illuzzi asked the judge to immediately enter the judgment on the two verdicts and to delay sentencing so Kathleen Nelson - who had left the courtroom after closing arguments - could present a victim’s impact statement. The judge agreed.