Vermont Supreme Court decision impacts case of lewd conduct with a child


BRATTLEBORO — On Friday, July 1, Windham Superior Court Criminal Division decided to continue with conditions of release for a Dover man who allegedly engaged in inappropriate conduct with two young children in 2014.

John P. Hunt, 70, is facing two counts of lewd-lascivious conduct with a child and was found mentally incompetent to stand trial by two medical examiners. In February 2016, Hunt was held for 90 days to the Commissioner of Mental Health on a 90-day order of non-hospitalization. Due to a Vermont Supreme Court decision that was issued in mid-June of this year, once a person is in the department's custody, only the commissioner can petition for that custody to continue. In this case, treatment was not extended for Hunt after it expired on May 29, 2016, and under state law no court hearing is necessary.

"The commissioners' decision not to seek continued treatment is solely under the commissioner's discretion, whether it's right or wrong, and is not subject to review," said Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein in court on July 1.

The court ruled that Hunt be released into the community on eight amended conditions of release, some of which include no contact with the victims unless approved by their parents and accompanied by an adult who has taken the Chaperone Training Program or similar program approved by DCF; no contact with any children under the age of 16; and Hunt be released into the custody of his wife.

According to court documents, an officer from the Dover Police Department received an initial complaint from the alleged victims' mother in January 2015. Later, one of the victims told a child-interview specialist that Hunt "would hug and kiss (the child) and, at times, his pants would fall down." The child also said Hunt would sometimes pull his pants down; put his tongue in the child's mouth; and touch the child inappropriately, the police affidavit says. Hunt told the victim to "not tell anyone about what they were doing," Dover police officer Richard Werner wrote.

The Department of Mental Health provides community-based mental health services through community mental health agencies, one for Windham County is Health Care and Rehabilitation Services. The forensic psychiatric examination report for Hunt by Jonathan L. Weeker diagnosed Hunt with "major neurocognitive disorder due to Parkinson's disease, with behavioral disturbance, possible Depressive disorder due to Parkinson's disease." Another examination by Mary E. Willmuth found that Hunt is not "mentally competent to stand trial for the alleged offenses because of Dementia due to Parkinson's disease." On July 1, the court explained that HCRS does not provide services for someone with Parkinson's related dementia.

Hunt's defense attorney, Mimi Brill, noted that her client is receiving services. Brill further noted that she feels it is "clear" that Hunt is not competent and is not going to become competent at any time. Judge Catherine Hayes added that some charges are still pending for this case and that was the reasoning behind his conditions of release as an obligation for the protection of the community. Hayes mentioned that "Mr. Hunt is not a pedophile, that is not what we're talking about here," but rather he is someone incompetent to stand trial.

The Vermont Supreme Court's decision that was made in mid-June stemmed from two Bennington County cases involving defendants who were found either incompetent to stand trial or insane at the time of the offense. When a court makes a determination, the person is transferred to the custody of the mental health commissioner for 90 days. This person could be treated with community services or hospitalized, dependent on the court's findings. The commissioner then has authority to determine that the person is ready to be discharged before the 90 days are up, but if the person stays in Mental Health Department custody until the order expires and the commissioner does not request an extension, under state law no court hearing is necessary. In the State v. Hunt case the commissioner did not request the extension.

According to Vermont law, "the court also held that the State's Attorney has no power to seek continued treatment as 'that power is vested solely in the Commissioner' and that 'unless an application for an order of continued treatment is filed by the Commissioner, the existing order expires.'"

If there are any violations of Hunt's conditions of release, it is considered a crime. If there are any violations, the court may send the individual to jail or keep them in jail and then the individual may be charged with new crimes. The conditions of released must be followed until the case is closed or until the court changes the conditions.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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