Tuesday March 8, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- A Brattleboro man was convicted of his ninth drunken driving offense Thursday in the Windham Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court and was sentenced to five years to life in prison.

Edwin H. Martin, 47, pleaded guilty to DUI in November as a habitual offender because of his prior felony convictions, which meant he would be eligible for up to life in prison.

At his sentencing hearing, Martin said he relocated to town after completing the RISE Program, a transitional residential program for self-motivated adults in early recovery from drug/alcohol addiction located on Main Street in Brattleboro.

"I moved up here by myself with no family," he said when it was his turn to address the court.

There were no friends or family in the courtroom to support Martin during the hearing. He has been battling alcoholism his whole life, he said.

His defense attorney, Christopher Montgomery, described his client’s family as "cursed," and introduced another factor that he said should influence the court’s decision.

"He was born into a family with a terrible history of alcohol, and both his parents died of cancer at a relatively young age," he said.

Martin is suffering from lung cancer, which has spread to his lymph nodes, his attorney said. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Keene, N.H., and is scheduled for surgery for removal of his lymph nodes.

Montgomery asked that Judge David T. Suntag sentence Martin to two years to life in prison; David Gartenstein, deputy state’s attorney, asked for 10 years to life.

"This is a 47-year-old man, and he has been in the criminal justice system since 1980," said Gartenstein. "During that time, he has accrued 11 felony convictions and twice as many misdemeanor convictions."

"Alcoholism is a disease," he added. "(But) deliberately driving while drunk is not a disease, it’s blatant disregard for the safety of the other members of the community, and it’s absolutely unacceptable for the defendant to be out and about."

Court documents indicate that on Sept. 21, 2009, Martin drove to a residence on Washington Street in Brattleboro; the resident said she smelled alcohol on his breath when he exited his vehicle and that he demanded to enter her home, threatening to break the windows.

Brattleboro Police arrived at the scene and attempted to conduct field sobriety tests. According to the police affidavit, Martin could barely stand and later submitted to an alcosensor which showed his blood alcohol level to be .207, more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit to drive in Vermont.

According to court documents, Martin had two driving under the influence convictions in 2002 and three DUIs in 2003. He also has two additional felonies on his record, an escape conviction from 1998 and a burglary in 1983.

Between November 1999 and February 2011, he spent a total of five years and eight months in jail, in either Vermont state prison or U.S. Federal Bureau prisons, said Parole Officer Gary Stevens.

The judge addressed Martin before handing down his sentence.

"Over the course of your 30-year criminal record, it looks like the Department of Corrections has given you every conceivable kind of program that they’ve got," said Suntag. "In the end it didn’t change the fact that you would still get behind the wheel and drive drunk.

"The only question is what’s the minimum going to be, and I don’t know how to fashion one that will not endanger the public, not knowing how you are going to do and if the treatment will be effective, and I hope it is," Suntag added. "If the minimum is too short and you get out and drink and drive, you are going to hurt somebody. You can almost count on it."

Suntag said it’s "insane" that there are no drug and alcohol treatment programs available in Vermont’s prisons, considering that substance abuse is a major issue for many inmates.

Martin will continue to receive his cancer treatment while incarcerated. He said that the news of his diagnosis was what drove him to drink and drive in this most recent incident.

"I wasn’t dealing with the situation very well and didn’t understand a lot of the medical terms being thrown at me," he said.

"I came down with the ‘poor me’ syndrome," he said. "I regret what I did ... I didn’t have my head screwed on right and I didn’t have the support I needed, or any guidance."

Suntag said that upon viewing Martin’s criminal record, he was stunned that someone with nine drunken driving convictions hasn’t yet killed himself or killed or injured someone else.

"I don’t have a mean bone in my body, and now I’m here standing in front of you facing 10 to life over alcohol," said Martin, just before receiving the five years to life sentence. "It’s crazy."

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.