New charge filed in 2019 overdose death

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BRATTLEBORO — A Brattleboro man was ordered held in prison pending his trial on a charge that he supplied a lethal dose of opioids to a man in Winhall on Jan. 16, 2019.

According to documents filed with U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Curtis J. Bunkley, 30, was the source of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl that caused the overdose of Thomas Devens Jr., 31, at the time of his death.

Bunkley has already pleaded guilty to one count of distributing controlled substances. But on Jan. 23, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont filed a new charge against Bunkley related to the death of Devens. His sentencing on the first charge was originally set for Feb. 5 but has since been delayed and no new date has been posted.

In the case to which Bunkley pleaded guilty, he was accused of selling 50 bags of heroin and fentanyl to an informant on Jan. 14, 2019.

Two days later, Devens overdosed on a heroin/fentanyl mix that was traced back to Bunkley.

On Feb. 10, U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan asked Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford to hold Bunkley for trial on the new charge.

"The court should detain the defendant because there are no conditions of release that will reasonably assure the safety of the community and the defendant's appearance in court," wrote Nolan in her motion for detention.

Nolan noted Bunkley has "a number of prior criminal convictions."

"In 2012, the defendant was convicted of domestic assault and was sentenced to 14-15 days of imprisonment," added Nolan. "The conviction resulted from the defendant reportedly striking his ex-girlfriend in the mouth with the back of his hand and then grabbing her by the neck and pushing her up against a wall. When the defendant's ex-girlfriend's sister attempted to intervene, the defendant punched her in the face."

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Nolan noted the altercation stemmed from a dispute over who would have custody of the Bunkley's daughter on Christmas.

In 2015, Bunkley was convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after police responded to a report of a disturbance in Brattleboro.

Bunkley's attorney, Lisa B. Shelkrot of Langrock Sperry & Wool, filed a motion in opposition to Bunkley's detention, noting he had been on conditions of release since April 2019 without incident.

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"The Government's Motion for Detention does not bring any new information to the attention of the court that has not already been known, considered and evaluated by the court," she wrote. "At every step, the court has found that he does not pose either a risk of flight of a danger to the community. The Government's Motion for Detention should be summarily denied."

Bunkley moved to Vermont from New Jersey eight years ago and lives with his girlfriend. The two of them are raising five children and Bunkley has been employed since December 2017, wrote Shelkrot.

"He has consistently maintained stable housing and employment, including throughout his pending case," she wrote. "He has been subject to random urinalysis since April 2019, and all tests have been negative."

Since pleading guilty in August 2019, he has been out on conditions, she noted.

"Judge Crawford found by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Bunkley was not likely to flee or pose a danger to safety or any other person or the community," wrote Shelkrot. "Mr. Bunkley not only accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct, but continued to cooperate with the court in anticipation of sentencing."

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Shelkrot argued that the U.S. Attorney's Office did not present any evidence whatsoever that Bunkley would be a danger to his community if his release on conditions was continued.

On Tuesday, Crawford approved Nolan's motion and ordered Bunkley held pending trial.

Denis St. Onge, 55, of Brattleboro, had also been charged in the death of Devens, but those charges were filed in Bennington County and were dismissed when the federal government took over the case.

According to court documents, St. Onge brought the fatal dose to Devens after Devens texted him

St. Onge "admitted that he had purchased heroin for Devens which he believed killed him," state court documents.

On Monday, St. Onge pleaded guilty to an amended charge of distributing heroin and fentanyl. He was originally charged with three counts of distributing heroin and one count of distributing heroin and fentanyl. He has been in federal custody since April 2019. His sentencing date has not yet been set.

Devens, who attended Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, was known for his work as a chef, including at Stratton Mountain and The Red Fox Inn in Winhall.

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


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