Road Rage murder

Bullet holes can be seen in the driver's side windshield of a truck parked on the shoulder of Route 103 in Bartonsville on Nov. 1, 2019.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BRATTLEBORO — A local judge has voided a defense subpoena served on the Vermont State Police in a case of alleged road rage homicide in Rockingham in 2019.

In quashing the subpoena on Wednesday, Windham County Superior Court Judge Katherine Hayes was skeptical of the defense’s rationale for demanding license plate information from the state police and any communication regarding how the agency obtained that information.

She said the defense should be asking the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office for the information, which is the custodian of the evidence from the investigation.

“I don’t want to call names,” said Hayes during the hearing. “But it seems a little sneaky. It doesn’t seem entirely OK.”

“I absolutely disagree with that characterization, your honor,” responded Adam Hescock, of Marsicovetere & Levine Law Group in White River Junction, who represents Jozsef Piri, 50, a doctor who currently lives in Naples, Fla.

On Nov. 2, 2019, Roberto Fonseca-Rivera, 44, of Boston, was found dead behind the wheel of his produce truck on the side of Route 103, killed by a gunshot to his jaw.

Although Piri, who owns a second home in Londonderry, had been interviewed the day after the shooting, he wasn’t arrested until two years later, after a lengthy and tech-driven investigation that included the license plate information, GPS tracking and cellphone records that show he started searching for information about a shooting in Rockingham even before Fonseca-Rivera’s body was discovered by police.

Piri was arraigned in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division, in December 2021, and charged with second-degree murder.

“To my knowledge, we have provided all materials that are within our possession, custody and control regarding the license plate reader,” said Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Brown during the 37-minute hearing.

Hescock wants even more license plate information, which the state got from the U.S. Department of Justice, and any communication about how the state and the VSP collected it because he is exploring an “alternative shooter” defense.

“The state sent a couple different folders with photos from different time periods,” said Hescock. “But we don’t have any communications about how the photos were requested, whether they are in compliance with the statute ... and we don’t have any notes for relevant reports about how they narrowed down the time periods, things of that nature. So that’s what we’re looking for.”

Brown said the State’s Attorney’s Office is “happy to make good faith attempts” to provide documents, if the defense makes “a clear discovery request to the state.”

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

“Which they know how to do, because they recently served a fairly intense discovery request on us back in early November, seeking many different types of materials, including materials that arguably fall within the scope of the subpoena,” said Brown. “So they clearly have the ability and knowledge to make this request to our office.”

Hescock said another purpose for serving the subpoena was that there be “other aspects in the investigation that we didn’t know about beyond this request,” which might support the alternative shooter defense.

The state would have you believe, Hescock wrote in court documents, that Piri “is an incredible marksman” who was able “to roll down his truck’s rear window, grab a handgun, establish a ‘reasonably stable firearm discharge platform,’ quickly fire at least two shots accurately between his truck’s rear headrests, while driving alone, and on a very windy day, on a busy highway, openly, on a Friday afternoon.”

Hescock also wrote you have to “disbelieve” two witnesses if you are to believe the state police’s conclusion that Piri killed Fonseca-Rivera.

He also wanted to know how deeply investigators explored the possibility that Fonseca-Rivera was killed by drug dealers he had testified against a year earlier.

Before voiding the subpoena, Hayes told the defense to refine its discovery request and meet with Brown.

“I don’t know exactly what it is you’re asking for,” said Hayes. “So I can’t tell whether or not [the state has] a valid objection or not. That’s what makes it necessary for there to be specific, clear, extremely narrow requests.”

Discovery works best, she said, when it’s “precise and detailed and very specific.”

“So that I know exactly what you asked for,” said Hayes.

If the State’s Attorney’s Office isn’t responsive to their discovery demands, she said, the defense can file a motion to compel.

Hayes gave the defense and the prosecution 30 days to hammer out the discovery requests.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.