BRATTLEBORO -- When investigators filed a murder charge against Jodi LaClaire in January 2012, court documents clearly alleged that she was - and had been for five to 10 years - a diabetic who uses insulin.
That's a critical point in a case in which LaClaire is accused of giving an 83-year-old resident of Brattleboro's Thompson House a fatal dose of insulin, then stealing money from the elderly woman's bank account as she lay comatose.
But prosecutors, who rested their case against LaClaire on Wednesday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, never produced any witnesses to tell jurors about LaClaire's insulin use - past or present.
And Vermont Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine wasn't saying why.
"I can't comment on any aspect of the case or the evidence," Levine told reporters in a hallway outside the Brattleboro courtroom.
LaClaire defense attorney Dan Sedon, however, jumped on the omission.
"That is a failure of the state's burden of proof in a major way," Sedon said.
In arguments before Judge David Suntag, Sedon added that "the state has not produced any evidence at all that Jodi LaClaire had any knowledge at all of insulin .... It is completely, wholly made up."
Prosecutors have made, by their own admission, a largely circumstantial case against LaClaire, 39, of Bennington, N.H. She faces charges of second-degree murder, abuse of a vulnerable adult and seven counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Investigators allege that LaClaire, while working as a Thompson House nursing assistant, intentionally gave Nita Lowery -- who was not diabetic -- a dose of insulin that dropped her blood sugar to critically low levels on the morning of March 23, 2009.
Lowery was found unresponsive minutes after LaClaire's shift ended. She died nine days later, having never been aroused from a coma.
The prosecution's case ended on the 11th day of testimony after Levine and Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle had called 28 witnesses.
The parade to the stand included seven current or former Thompson House employees; six doctors including a pulmonologist, endocrinologist, neurologist and neuropathologist; five financial administrators from two banks and the USAA financial-services company; and four criminal investigators.
Also testifying were three members of Lowery's family; one medic from Rescue Inc.; one FairPoint phone company representative; and a pawn shop employee from Keene, N.H.
Wednesday began with more debate about photos. Prosecutors already had won the right to show jurors a series of bank-surveillance images that allegedly depict LaClaire using Lowery's USAA card to make withdrawals at ATMs in Brattleboro and Keene.
To buttress his case, Doyle also wanted jurors to be able to compare photos from LaClaire's 2011 arrest to those 2009 bank photos. The defense objected.
Suntag ruled that jurors could see the 2011 booking photos but should not view a "collage" -- which had been produced by prosecutors -- combining those images with the bank pictures.
The judge noted that the collage photos had been cropped and enlarged.
"Any little change, any little distortion, intended or not, can have a significant impact," Suntag said. "And I'm very concerned about that."
With that issue settled, the prosecution's final three witnesses represented Thompson House.
Testimony showed that, twice in the early morning of March 23, 2009, Thompson House employees offered to bring Lowery a cup of coffee. Both times, they were rebuffed by LaClaire.
"Jodi's response was, ‘No, I got it. Nita told me she wants to sleep in,'" recalled Brooke Paige, a registered nurse on duty at the care home that morning.
Paige, who since has left Thompson House, was followed by Barbara Miller, who still works in the laundry at the Maple Street care home.
Miller said she had a routine of bringing coffee to Lowery and a neighboring resident on Thompson House's second floor each morning around 6:30 a.m.
But when she stepped off the elevator on March 23, 2009, "Jodi was standing there, and she asked who the coffee was for," Miller testified.
When Miller told LaClaire one cup was for Lowery, "she said, "I'll take Nita's."
Miller did not see or hear any subsequent interaction between LaClaire and Lowery. And she said LaClaire never before had volunteered to take Lowery's coffee.
When testimony concluded, the jury was dismissed for the day and defense attorneys -- as expected -- argued that the case should be dismissed before proceeding any further.
"There is insufficient evidence that Ms. LaClaire, herself, committed the acts that were alleged," attorney Richard Ammons told Suntag.
As for the alleged monetary thefts, Ammons argued that the prosecution has not come close to directly connecting LaClaire and Lowery's USAA card.
"The case that she created a PIN, the case that she got onto the computer ... is not just thin but probably the reason this case took as long as it did before they decided how they were going to charge it," Ammons said.
The Brattleboro-based defense attorney again cast doubt on the bank-surveillance images and went so far as to argue that, because the withdrawals actually were cash advances on a credit card, the funds allegedly stolen were not Lowery's at all.
"In this case, we have somebody who did not own funds," Ammons said. "She had a line of credit."
That prompted questions from Suntag. The judge also had questions for Doyle, who argued that the case should move forward.
"The only scenario that makes sense here is for Ms. LaClaire to have done it," Doyle said.
He spent considerable time reciting the state's evidence showing that LaClaire was in the right place at the right time to have injected Lowery and then to have used the elderly woman's computer and phone to access her bank account.
"Ms. LaClaire, according to her own statement (to a Thompson House administrator), puts herself in that room," Doyle said.
Referencing the controversial bank images, Doyle also declared that "there are a significant number of facial features ... that a reasonable juror could conclude match up."
Investigators found no needle or insulin in Lowery's room, and no witness has pinpointed exactly where LaClaire allegedly obtained insulin. Doyle compared the state's case to "somebody dying of a gunshot wound, and we don't have a gun."
"We wouldn't have to show where that person got the gun from," he said. "We'd have to put on evidence that guns could be accessed."
But Sedon rejected the gunshot analogy. In this case, he told the judge, "there's no distinctive, conclusive evidence of administration of the drug."
Furthermore, Sedon argued, prosecutors are "merely theorizing" and have not shown that LaClaire had access to insulin or knew about the drug's effects.
In her job at Thompson House, "Ms. LaClaire didn't administer drugs," Sedon said. "She didn't even have access to the drug cart."
While allowing for circumstantial evidence, Sedon declared that "a case of murder should not be based this largely on conjecture."
Suntag did not immediately rule on the defense's request for acquittal, as prosecutors are expected to file more legal briefs this morning. If the case goes forward, the defense will begin calling witnesses today.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.