Attorney: Co-op shooter was mentally ill

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BRATTLEBORO -- A lawyer for Richard Gagnon, the former wine manager of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, says her client was suffering from "diminished capacity" when he shot and killed his boss, Michael Martin, last summer, a claim Martin's sister said she "wasn't buying."

Gagnon has been charged with the first degree murder, and during a scheduling conference Tuesday, Gagnon's attorney, Kerry DeWolfe, stated that she intended to file documents stating that her client was mentally ill at the time of the alleged murder.

Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said that he had received the report written by Dr. Albert Drukteinis, a forensic psychiatrist, relating to Gagnon's psychiatric state leading up to and at the time of shooting and that there were "a number of issues that arise."

Gartenstein called into question if Gagnon's depression after experiencing a series of events would serve as a legal defense to change the charge from murder in the first degree, which carries a sentence of 35 years to life without parole, to manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 15 years behind bars.

Martin's sister, JoAnn Berno, who was in the audience during the conference, said she was concerned about the possibility that Gagnon could use the diminished capacity defense.

"I think (Gagnon) knew exactly what he was doing," she said. "He had his job review in his pocket and the Friday before he and Michael had a verbal altercation. He killed the messenger."

According to police, Gagnon and Martin had a verbal dispute about Gagnon's employment situation on Aug. 5, 2011, the same day he was encouraged to resign and offered a severance package.

When police arrived on scene, Gagnon was found behind the co-op parking lot with a loaded semi-automatic handgun, an additional magazine filled with ammunition and a copy of a recent employment evaluation signed by Martin and dated May 1.

Berno said her brother was concerned about Gagnon after the verbal confrontation and was unsure about going to work on that Tuesday.

"He wasn't a fighter," Berno said of Martin. "He was a compassionate man who loved his family."

She described her brother as the "golden child" in their family's eyes. The only son of an only son, he was beloved by all, she said.

"I remember one summer our parents had decided he was old enough to look after us during the day," Berno said. "Each of us were given a list of chores and Michael would have me and my sister do his first so that he never got in trouble."

And another time, during a huge snowstorm in their hometown of Waterbury, Berno, Martin and their father needed to help people get to their plow equipment up a steep hill.

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"Each of us got on our snowmobiles to drive them up but his throttle was sticking, so when we dropped them off he yelled to me to take his and I got stuck with the sled with funky throttle on the way back," Berno said. "He was quite the trickster and salesman."

Despite his joking nature, Martin knew when it was time to be serious and taking charge of a situation, Berno said.

"When our father was dying, Michael was with him all the time," she said. "He was with our mother making all the arraignments to make sure that everything was done right, that the house had enough wood. He was always there for family."

She said no matter what, she'd always received a phone call on her birthday and when her son joined the military, Michael called often asking how she and his nephew were doing.

Berno said her brother loved to travel and moved around for various jobs in New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Florida but always wanted to return to his home state so when the job opened at the co-op he jumped at the opportunity.

"Michael loved his job," she said. "He'd call me out of the blue just to talk about how the construction of the new building was going and how proud of it he was. He had the hard job of moving the co-op into the 21st century and making sure every department was making money and obviously problems arose."

She said she knows the court process can take a long time but is hopeful Gagnon will take the plea bargain that was offered to him.

Gartenstein said he couldn't comment on what the details of the bargain were as there hasn't been a decision on whether he'll accept it or not.

"I'd like to start grieving," Berno said. "I think Michael would be satisfied if (Gagnon) spent a lot of time in jail."

She added that she's going to continue to sit through the court proceedings in honor of Martin.

"I feel it's my obligation to be the voice of my brother," she said.

Gagnon wasn't required to appear in court Tuesday and is still being held without bail.

A tentative two-week trial date has been set for late October, early November.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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