BRATTLEBORO -- A Guilford resident pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that he shot a man in the stomach with a 12-gauge shotgun after a dispute at his Stage Road home.
Nicolas C. Baker, 26, faces three felony charges and told police that the victim, Edward Carter, was moving toward him with a "wasted, angry stare" and ignoring warnings to back off when he pulled the trigger early Saturday.
Baker is free after posting bail and must abide by court-ordered conditions of release including no contact with the victim. As of Monday evening, Carter remained in critical condition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
In papers released following Baker's arraignment Monday, Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Scott Dunlap said he received a call at 4:22 a.m. Saturday reporting that a gunshot victim had been transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital by two friends.
Carter, 39, whose address is listed only as Wisconsin, later was flown to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
Noting that Stage Road turns into an unmaintained, Class 4 road, Dunlap said troopers had to park about a half-mile from the shooting scene and walked in. They "maintained cover" as they did so. After 15 to 20 minutes and "numerous verbal announcements," Dunlap's affidavit says, Baker left his home and met with troopers.
He told police that he had been in Brattleboro the previous evening and met two "travelers" -- describing them as "people who travel all over, usually by jumping on freight trains to get around.
Baker knew both men, one of whom was Carter. Baker said he, his wife and the two travelers "stopped at the store and picked up four 12-packs of beer" before heading back to Stage Road.
"They were hanging out drinking some beers, when Edward started to get belligerent and obnoxious," the police affidavit says, citing Baker's statement.
"Edward was smashing beer bottles and throwing food around," court documents say. "Nicolas described the beer bottle smashing as, after every beer Edward drank, he would take the empty bottle outside and smash it in the returnable bin."
At some point, Baker's wife and Carter had a physical confrontation over the woman's laptop, Baker told police. Baker said he "was not going to allow Edward to be physical with his wife" and told him to stop, but he did not.
Baker said he then retrieved a shotgun from his bedroom and "nudged" Carter's forehead several times with the barrel. Baker told police that Carter advanced on him even as he retreated to his bedroom, warning Carter to get away from him.
"Edward continued walking towards Nicolas, at which time Nicolas pulled the trigger," the affidavit states. Carter was about 5 feet away when the shot was fired, Baker estimated.
"Nicolas told me he thought Edward was going to hurt him. Nicolas told me Edward weighed about 50 pounds more than Nicolas," Dunlap's affidavit says. "Nicolas told me Edward had a ‘wasted, angry stare, like diplomacy time was over, a look like I'm going to (expletive) you up.'"
Baker said he could not remember whether Carter had anything in his hands.
"After Edward was shot, Edward stumbled backwards then forwards to the ground at which time he was wiggling on the ground and groaning," the affidavit says.
Baker's wife and the other "traveler" picked up Edward and drove him to the hospital, police said.
Baker's wife told investigators that she had offered the travelers a place to stay for one night so they didn't have to sleep outside. In addition to the group drinking and smoking marijuana, she said Carter "took an unknown amount of prescription pills that he had" and became "increasingly intoxicated" as he "began touching everything in the house and playing with the ferrets," court documents say.
She reported that a struggle ensued, though she said Carter never struck her and she had no injuries. She said she believed her husband retrieved the shotgun to try and break up the fight, but Carter did not seem to care that Baker had armed himself, according to the affidavit.
The other "traveler" told police that he and Carter had been hitchhiking from Portsmouth, N.H., to northern Vermont to try to find work. They were dropped off on Flat Street in Brattleboro.
The man said Carter took one Suboxone pill and drank about 10 beers at Baker's home, becoming "increasingly uncooperative and belligerent." He described Carter as "being highly intoxicated to the point where he could not talk or walk efficiently."
The man said he went to sleep and was "was awoken by a loud ‘bam,'" then saw Carter holding his stomach and groaning before he fell to the floor.
When the man and Baker's wife began administering first aid, Baker initially stood nearby and said, "just let him lay there," according to the affidavit. But he later joined in the effort and told his wife to report an "accidental discharge" when they arrived at the hospital, court papers say.
According to the police affidavit, a doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock said the gunshot wound had forced removal of part of Carter's colon, his right kidney, his bladder and his liver. Carter also had a hole in his stomach.
Baker initially was held in lieu of $25,000 bail, but he posted that via a bail bondsman and was not in custody when he appeared for his arraignment Monday afternoon at Windham Superior Court Criminal Division in Brattleboro.
Though defense attorney Rick Ammons, Baker pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon and marijuana cultivation (more than 25 plants). All are felonies.
That last charge is due to the allegation that, in a later interview with an investigator, Baker also admitted to cultivating marijuana plants. That led to execution of a search warrant, and police said they found 31 plants at Baker's home.
Prosecutors also had pursued a felony count of obstructing justice. But Judge David Suntag on Monday found no probable cause for that count, citing a "weak" connection between the facts alleged by police and the legal basis for the charge.
The Windham County State's Attorney's office asked for several conditions of release pending further court action. They include no contact with the victim, no drugs and no firearms as well as an order to stay in Windham County.
Ammons objected to restrictions on his client's travel.
"He does go to Keene (N.H.) to sell his glassware," Ammons said. "He's a glass-blower by trade, and his market is over there."
Suntag, though, agreed with the state's request.
"For now, Mr. Baker cannot leave the county before getting permission from the court," the judge said.
Baker has no criminal record in Vermont; his out-of-state criminal record includes convictions for theft and possessing controlled substances, court documents show.
The affidavit in the Guilford case notes that, in September 2013, Baker was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Cambridge, Mass. He was accused of stabbing a person in a park, though the disposition of that case was not clear on Monday.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.