Restorative justice ordered in manslaughter case

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BRATTLEBORO — A man charged with involuntary manslaughter in his wife's overdose death agreed to a plea deal last week and was sentenced to participating in a restorative justice program.

On Sept. 9, 2018, Ronald MacKinnon, now 73, was driving his van from Keene, N.H., to Brattleboro with his wife, 52-year-old Debbie MacKinnon, and his daughter.

"During the drive, while in New Hampshire, Debbie slumped over in her seat and lost consciousness," wrote MacKinnon in court documents. He wrote that he thought his wife was having seizures, "which has happened before because she has seizure disorder."

MacKinnon wrote that his daughter picked up the phone to call 911 but that he told her not to call. Instead he pulled over and attempted to wake his wife up by splashing water in her face. MacKinnon also noted that he knew his wife had a history of drug overdoses and combined with a seizure disorder, might cause problems that "may require emergency medical attention."

MacKinnon and his daughter continued on to Brattleboro, where another daughter told him his wife was dying and he needed to take her to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

"Despite being only a mile away from Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, I drove twenty miles to Cheshire Medical Center in Keene..." wrote MacKinnon. "By the time I arrived at the Cheshire Medical Center, Debbie had died."

According to court documents, an autopsy concluded Debbie MacKinnon died of "acute fentanyl intoxication."

"We met with family members and they support this plea agreement," said Steven Brown, Deputy State's Attorney for Windham County.

The plea agreement, said Brown, was meant to hold MacKinnon accountable for the way his wife died. He said sending a defendant to restorative justice for a crime like this is a unique approach.

"We met extensively with the family and they felt comfortable with the sentence," he said. "Sending Mr. MacKinnon to jail was not going to do any particular good to society."

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The state of Vermont received the information from the New Hampshire State Police, which investigated the incident. The case was then referred by the State's Attorney's Office to a grand jury.

"We felt very strongly the grand jury should have an opportunity to hear the case and decide whether charges were appropriate," said Brown.

The grand jury returned with one charge each of involuntary manslaughter, failing to provide emergency care and reckless endangerment. The involuntary manslaughter charge was dismissed when MacKinnon agreed to plead guilty to the two lesser charges.

If MacKinnon fails to complete the reparative program to the satisfaction of the reparative board, MacKinnon will be sent back to the court for sentencing.

Brown said MacKinnon's age was also a factor in not asking for a jail sentence.

"That would do more damage than has already been done to this family," he said.

Brown said the Windham County State's Attorney has stayed in contact with the Cheshire County Attorney's Office in Keene.

"We frequently consult with our partners in the Cheshire County office," he said. "I also want to thank [retired New Hampshire State Police] Sgt. Shawn Skahan for presenting the case to us."

Brian Mariscovetere, MacKinnon's attorney, declined to comment on the resolution of the case.

Bob Audette can be contacted at


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