Tuesday March 5, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- With a judge poised to send him to prison for badly beating a Saxtons River woman last year, Joey Dyson had a change of heart and decided to join a treatment program for abusers.

Dyson, 36, accepted entry into the state Department of Corrections Intensive Domestic Abuse Program after a lengthy sentencing proceeding Monday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.

Dyson had pleaded guilty to three counts of domestic assault in connection with the April 6 incident that the victim described as a "near-death experience."

The facts of that case -- coupled with testimony about Dyson’s past behavior -- led Judge David Suntag to issue an ultimatum: Dyson would go straight to prison if he would not consent to intensive treatment.

"Probation was never really an option," Suntag said.

Dyson initially had been charged with felony aggravated domestic assault after state police were summoned to Springfield Hospital to speak with a woman who had injuries on her face, neck, arms and legs.

The victim told police that Dyson smashed her head against a floor and strangled her "for approximately 20 to 30 seconds while screaming and swearing at her." She was "unable to breathe and her ears were ringing," a court affidavit says.

The victim also said Dyson had punched her in the face and hit her with a vacuum hose. Her children, ages 3 and 4, were present during the assault, court documents say.

An investigator said that, when interviewed by police, Dyson changed his story several times.

"I noticed that he would leave out memorable and important pieces of the incident until I brought them up, and I found his statement to be constantly conflicting and inconsistent," Senior Trooper Brian Berry wrote.

Dyson was arrested following that interview. But even after he had pleaded guilty to the three misdemeanor charges, it took months for Dyson to be sentenced.

The process started in early December, when Dyson’s former wife -- who is not the victim in the current case -- testified that he regularly had abused her. She said Dyson choked her, confined her in the house and ripped the phone off the wall so that she couldn’t call for help.

"He used to call and threaten to kill me all the time," she said.

That testimony led to a recording played in court on Monday.

The tape was from an April 17 court proceeding. Dyson, having been arrested less than two weeks prior for the Saxtons River assault, was participating in a child-support hearing with his ex-wife.

He was calling in from prison, and he angrily talked over the judge, repeating that he was "sick of it."

Dyson "loses his temper to the point where the magistrate actually has to hang up the phone," said Ashley Harriman, Windham County deputy state’s attorney.

Such evidence stood in contrast to testimony from Dyson’s father, Ernest Dyson. The Chester resident told the judge that his son has been living on his property recently and is a "well-known and respected mason in the state of Vermont."

While acknowledging that Joey Dyson suffers from severe depression, Ernest Dyson said his son is not violent and would not assault a woman.

"Absolutely not -- Joey never even got in a fight in high school," Ernest Dyson said.

Dyson’s attorney, Joanne Baltz, followed that by handing over statements from others praising Dyson’s character.

But that nearly derailed the proceeding when Suntag, after taking a brief recess to read those letters, asked why Dyson had submitted a statement saying he had not committed the Saxtons River assault and had pleaded guilty only to get out of jail.

Noting Dyson’s plea, Suntag told him that "you can’t have it both ways."

After conferring with his attorney, Dyson said he wanted to continue with his sentencing. Baltz argued that her client suffers from "significant mental health and physical issues" and deserved a probationary sentence.

Dyson also spoke briefly, saying the Saxtons River assault was a "one-time incident" and was not indicative of his past behavior.

"I’ve been a decent citizen," he said, adding that, before this case, "I’ve never had an assault, domestic or even a disorderly conduct."

Dyson also told the judge that "I’ve had a streak of bad luck between the law and women."

Harriman, however, said Dyson had an extensive criminal record and had shown a tendency to not abide by conditions of probation. She asked for a prison sentence of up to 54 months.

Suntag said he was prepared to order Dyson to report to prison, but he did not do so after Dyson agreed to enter the Intensive Domestic Abuse Program.

The program uses a "cognitive-behavioral model, incorporating best-practice methods of behavior change for men who batter," the Vermont Department of Corrections website says.

Dyson did receive an 18- to 36-month jail sentence. However, he is on furlough status and will not spend time behind bars if he complies with Department of Corrections rules and follows through with treatment.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.