2013 knife attack conviction upheld by Vt. Supreme Court

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BRATTLEBORO — A New Jersey man who is serving six to 20 years for assault and robbery for attacking a teenager with a knife in 2013 has lost his appeal to have his conviction overturned.

According to a judgment issued by a three-member panel of the Vermont Supreme Court, Charles Trowell, now 45, of Jersey City, argued that his conviction should be vacated because he only assaulted the teen and didn't actually rob him of money.

"He admitted that he had been armed with a knife, that he assaulted the victim, and that he cut the victim's throat in an attempt to get some money or property from him," states the decision. "However, he denied having obtained any money or property from the victim during the incident."

During the criminal trial in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division, the judge ordered a recess to discuss whether Trowell had intended to commit robbery in advance of the assault.

According to court documents, Trowell and Anthony Gonzalez, now 37, of Brattleboro, attempted to rob the teen on the night of Feb. 1, 2013, after the victim had left the Brattleboro Boys & Girls Club on Flat Street. Documents state Trowell held a kitchen knife to the boy's throat while Gonzalez restrained him. When the victim pulled away, he suffered a cut to his throat. The wound was not considered life-threatening, and the teen was treated at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Following his arrest, Trowell told investigators that he was drunk and that he and Gonzalez weren't serious — "they were just scaring people," according to court documents.

Gonzalez eventually pleaded no contest to aiding in the commission of an aggravated assault and was sentenced to serve three to eight years in prison. Trowell pleaded guilty to assault and robbery in April of 2014.

Trowell first appealed the trial court's decision in Windham Superior Court. That appeal was dismissed in April of 2017, so Trowell appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal.

Following the recess in the April 2017 hearing in Windham Superior Court, the judge asked Trowell to clarify his intent the night of the assault.

"[D]id you attempt ... were you trying to, even if you weren't successful, get some property or money from him in the process?" asked the judge, to which Trowell responded "Yes."

Trowell also agreed that he injured the victim. "Now is there any question about that?" asked the judge, to which Trowell responded "No."

In his appeal, Trowell argued that "because the court failed to obtain an admission from him that he intended to permanently deprive the victim of money or property ..." his sentencing should be vacated.

However, noted the Supreme Court, the Superior Court "had inquired into the factual basis for all of the elements except for the implied element of intent, and that a specific inquiry into that issue was not required because petitioner obviously had not intended to return the victim's money if he obtained it."

Even though the Superior Court did not ask Trowell whether he intended to rob the victim of his wallet, "Conviction for attempted assault and robbery requires the same mental intent as the completed crime," noted the Supreme Court.

Because Trowell admitted to sufficient facts to support a conviction for assault and robbery, the Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court's dismissal of Trowell's appeal.

Trowell is currently serving his sentence out of state. He has a minimum release date of Jan. 31, 2019. Gonzalez is currently being held in Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. According to the Vermont Inmate Locator, Gonzalez had a minimum release date of Feb. 1, 2016, but is still being detained.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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