FERRISBURGH — A Burlington man with ties to Ferrisburgh on Monday was officially charged with second-degree murder for taking the life of Conrad Bell, 40, of Vergennes during a confrontation at a Ferrisburgh bonfire just before midnight on July 27.
At a Monday afternoon arraignment in Rutland Superior Court, Joseph Bolduc, 25, pleaded innocent to that charge as well as a number of other charges stemming from the aftermath of an incident in which Vermont State Police allege Bolduc struck Bell with a tire iron in the neck at least twice and caused his death.
Bolduc — whose father lives in Ferrisburgh, according to VSP affidavits — was held without bail at the Marble Valley Correctional Center after the Friday incident, and at the arraignment was ordered to be returned there without bail. He faces a presumptive minimum term of 20 years for the crime of second-degree murder, and could get life in prison without parole.
VSP affidavits stated that on Friday, July 27, at the bonfire off Sand Road, Bell stepped in to protect his friend Todd Huestis, also of Vergennes, when Bolduc showed up and attacked Huestis.
According to court documents, witnesses — including Huestis’s wife and two teenage daughters, who are Bell’s godchildren — saw Bolduc brandish a tire iron and then hit Bell with it.
VSP recovered the tire iron from the scene after Bolduc fled in his pickup truck and hid in his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Poulos’s basement before police tracked him down. He then resisted arrest, according to court documents. Those actions led to the additional charges.
Bell was unresponsive when state police and Vergennes Area Rescue Squad personnel arrived at the scene, an area off Sand Road known as the Tow Path, which leads to Otter Creek. He was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. on Saturday, shortly after he was taken to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, according to three affidavits VSP filed in court on Monday.
According to court documents, an autopsy performed by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office on Saturday determined that “blunt trauma” to Bell’s neck caused his death. The doctor performing the autopsy also “ruled the death as a homicide,” according to an affidavit written by VSP Detective Sgt. Albert Abdelnour.
Officials moved the arraignment to Rutland Superior Court because there was no presiding judge available on Monday in Addison Superior Court’s Criminal Division, where future court proceedings are expected to be held.
On this past Wednesday a Weight of the Evidence hearing was scheduled for Addison Superior Court. According to Addison County court officials that hearing is the next step in bringing Bolduc to trial. But that hearing was canceled because it was a moot point because he is being held without bail for violation of probation in a previous brush with the law, according to court officials.
The affidavits suggest the violence might not have been completely random. Bolduc drove up to the party — in a reckless manner, according to witnesses, one of whom described his truck as “barreling down the hill” — just before midnight. Several 911 calls were made seeking help at 11:55 p.m. on that Friday.
When he arrived, witnesses said he shouted at the gathering asking, according to Todd Huestis and others, where he could find Brandon Bothwell, who the documents described as the current boyfriend of Bolduc’s ex-girlfriend.
According to an affidavit written by VSP Sgt. Robert Patten, “Bolduc had just earlier in the evening been involved in a heated cell phone conversation with people at the gathering. The primary focus of the call centered on Bolduc, his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Poulos, and Jennifer’s current boyfriend Brandon Bothwell.”
In another affidavit, VSP Trooper Peter Dempsey wrote that he interviewed Poulos, and that, “Jennifer advised she was at the Tow Path earlier in the night.”
Patten’s affidavit also reported a call allegedly placed from Bolduc to Bell at about 10 p.m. on July 21. Patten wrote that Bell told his wife the call came from Bolduc; she heard the caller shouting at Bell “that he better watch his back and that he would f...ing kill him.”
Addison County Deputy State’s Attorney Christopher Perkett said investigators will be working to piece together the relationships among the parties and determine why Bolduc — who was also processed for drunk driving that night and is a two-time drunk-driving offender — went to the Tow Path and struck Bell with the tire iron.
“The investigation regarding any motive Mr. Bolduc may or may not have had is ongoing,” Perkett said.
The alleged call from Bolduc, who told police he has been undergoing anger management counseling for the past 30 months, to Bell also caught prosecutors’ attention.
“That phone call is something we are interested in,” Perkett said.
In the days and weeks to come, Perkett said investigators will not only be “re-interviewing everyone at the bonfire,” but also speaking to “collateral witnesses” who might shed some light on the Bolduc’s motivation.
According to VSP, minutes before midnight on July 27 they received a 911 call reporting an assault on Sand Road. Troopers from the VSP’s New Haven barracks and personnel from the VARS headed there immediately, and help also soon arrived from the Vergennes Police Department. Upon arrival emergency responders located a man, later identified as Bell, who was unresponsive and began trying to revive him.
According to Abdelnour’s affidavit, Jessie Huestis said Bolduc attacked Todd Huestis after Bolduc got out of his truck and Todd Huestis said to him, “Is there a problem here, you shouldn’t be driving like that around here.”
Todd Huestis told VSP that Bolduc “yelled to find out where Brandon Bothwell was located,” and that Bolduc “began to challenge him,” and he had to defend himself. Soon afterward, Todd Huestis said Bell came to his aid “and went at Bolduc. He advised that almost immediately Conrad went to the ground.”
Huestis said that Bolduc came after him again, but at that point Jessie Huestis jumped on Bolduc from behind and “got him in a neck hold and took him back to his truck.” Jessie Huestis told VSP she “took a tire iron away from the male subject.”
According to Abdelnour’s affidavit, the Huestis’s younger daughter told VSP that “Conrad went over to prevent (her father) from getting hurt ... and that she had seen Joe get out of the car with a crow bar in his hand which is what he hit Conrad with.”
According to the affidavits, Bolduc left the scene at 11:55 p.m. in his 1998 white Dodge pickup. Two minutes later, a Sand Road homeowner called in an accident. According to Dempsey, the “vehicle went airborne” and struck a utility pole and “appears to have struck nose first, causing the vehicle to roll onto its roof ... it is evident he was traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit.”
Police said blood and Bolduc’s wallet were found in the truck’s cabin, and police “observed numerous alcohol containers inside and around the vehicle.”
A witness saw Bolduc head on foot northbound on Sand Road. Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said his department’s canine helped track Bolduc to the basement of Poulos’s home, and VSP found him there, not far from the accident scene.
Bolduc then bolted, according to Abdelnour, and VSP Det. Trooper Christopher Campbell and Trooper Jason Johnson subdued him after a foot chase of about 100 yards, but not before Bolduc allegedly punched Campbell in the face.
Vergennes police then took Bolduc to VSP’s New Haven barracks, and from there he was taken to Porter Hospital for treatment for his accident injuries.
Bolduc was released from Porter just after 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and taken back to the VSP barracks to be processed for driving under the influence of alcohol.
There, according to Dempsey, “Bolduc grabbed on to my duty weapon and attempted to disarm me ... I physically grabbed onto Bolduc, struck him with my right knee, then pushed away, creating a reactionary gap and I drew my taser.”
Dempsey wrote that Bolduc then surrendered and dropped to the ground, and other troopers quickly helped.
Because of his actions after allegedly striking Bell with the tire iron, Bolduc also was formally charged on Monday with simple assault on a law enforcement officer, attempting to disarm a law enforcement officer, and a criminal charge of driving with a suspended license. His license suspension derives from his prior DUI convictions, according to the court documents. Bolduc pleaded innocent to all the charges.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]