BRATTLEBORO -- Former Brattleboro Food Co-op employee Richard Gagnon pleaded guilty Friday to killing fellow co-op employee Michael Martin last year and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Gagnon had pleaded not guilty and was facing first degree murder charges.
He was scheduled to go to trial early next year for the killing but reached a plea deal with the state last week.
The former co-op beer and wine manager pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life.
He received a sentence of 17 years, with time served to include the year and almost three months that he has already spent in prison.
Gagnon, who was 59 years old at the time of slaying, could be released from prison in 2028 when he is 76 years old.
Gagnon was wearing shackles and appeared distraught and gaunt when he walked in to the Windham County Superior Court, which was packed with members of Martin's family as well as with his own family members and friends.
After pleading guilty and receiving his sentence Gagnon apologized to the Martin family and said Michael Martin did not deserve to die.
"I was a good man for 59 years. I respected all life and I never hurt anybody," he said to Judge David Suntag in a barely audible voice.
"But I broke down and I felt like my life was coming to an end. The gun was supposed to be for me but instead I used it on Michael. I can never take it back. It is never going to get better. It is never going to go away.
Gagnon worked at the Brattleboro Food Co-op for 20 years and tensions between him and Martin intensified in the days leading up to the killing.
According to court records, Martin, who was Gagnon's superior, had given Gagnon unfavorable evaluations and on the Friday before the shooting Martin suggested that Gagnon take a severance package and leave the co-op.
In court Friday Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said Gagnon told a psychiatrist that during the following weekend he descended into a vortex of despair.
Gagnon told a psychiatrist that he contemplated suicide and tried to kill his wife that weekend, Gartenstein said.
The following Monday Gagnon called in sick.
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, just after 8 a.m., he shot Martin in the head with a semiautomatic handgun and killed him while he was at his desk.
In explaining the state's decision to accept a plea deal, Gartenstein said Gagnon's eventual sentence would have not likely been much different.
Gartenstein said the trial would be a "burden on the community" and he wondered what more would be gained by having co-op employees, Martin family members and others testify.
He also said that some of Martin's family members did not support the deal and thought Gagnon should go to trial for first degree murder and spend the rest of his life in prison.
Before Gagnon was sentenced a number of Martin's children and family members gave emotional statements about the killing.
Cathy Fisk, Martin's sister, said 17 years was not enough time and she said Gagnon should spend the rest of his life in prison for what he did.
"Only a cold-blooded murderer would shoot a man in the back of the head," she said. "You are getting away with murder. I hope you are never free from the guilt."
Martin's other sister Jo Ann Berno said it was impossible to understand what Gagnon did that August morning.
She said that while she could not forgive him, she did have compassion for Gagnon's family, though she said she will fight to make sure Gagnon serves out his complete sentence.
"There is a deep sadness and emptiness that I feel on a daily basis. Our hearts have been broken," Berno said. "We will attend every parole hearing and make sure you are not released. The pain will never end for us."
Leah Martin, Michael Martin's daughter, said she did not want to see her father's killer, but said she came to honor him.
"I cry every day. The suffering is endless," she said. "Seventeen years is not enough. What you did is unforgivable."
And Ella Martin, another of his daughters, said Gagnon ripped apart her life.
Ella Martin said her father had been her sole parent after her parents divorced and she said Gagnon took away "the only man in my life who I trusted whole heartedly."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.