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Prosecutor faces pressure and scrutiny

ADDISON COUNTY STATE'S Attorney Eva Vekos enters the courtroom in the Mahaney Courthouse in Middlebury on Tuesday afternoon and prepares to sit at the defendant’s table, rather than the prosecutor’s. She pleaded not guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. Pool photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

MIDDLEBURY — A DUI-refusal charge (see story) and the fallout from a recent email belittling local law enforcement aren’t the only challenges Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos is facing right now.

The county’s top prosecutor is also seeing increasing calls for her resignation or removal from office, with some of those appeals coming from folks she’s represented in criminal court cases.

Vekos, in her second year as state’s attorney, is currently the subject of:

• Two separate citizens’ petition drives, one calling for her impeachment (tinyurl.com/mr2xf8cp), the other simply demanding her “removal from office” (tinyurl.com/muy6tj92). The latter petition, initiated by Ryan Emilio of New Haven, had garnered 305 signatures (toward a 500-signature goal) as of this writing. The former petition, drawn up by Bristol’s Danielle Hill — a parent of a survivor in a sexual assault case that continues to play out in Addison Superior Court, Criminal Division — had gathered 54 signatures toward a 100-signature goal.

• A complaint to the Vermont Ethics Commission, also filed by Hill. In her complaint, Hill, among other things, cites Vekos’s DUI citation and her handling of her daughter’s case as reasons she believes the prosecutor should be sanctioned.

• A complaint to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, also filed by Hill, in which she calls for Vekos to be removed from her daughter’s case. Hill alleges, among other things, that Vekos “has repeatedly violated multiple victims’ rights statutes” during her stewardship of the case, including allegedly “failing to notify victims prior to (her alleged attacker’s) imminent release from incarceration.”

The Independent reached out to Vekos and her attorney, David Sleigh, inviting their input for this story. Neither responded to the Independent’s specific invitation. But Sleigh late Wednesday afternoon issued a general statement on behalf of his client to multiple state media outlets, including the Independent. That statement appears verbatim later in this article.

The Independent recently interviewed survivors and family members associated with three separate Addison County sex-crime cases that are either still winding their way through criminal court or have recently been adjudicated. Those interviewed by the Independent shared concerns about the manner in which they claimed Vekos has both treated them and represented them in court.

Among them is Hill, parent of a now-young-woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Andrew Hinman, now 22, of Middlebury. Hinman was cited (as a juvenile) on Sept. 8, 2017, for a felony count of sexual assault without consent. The charge stemmed from an investigation of an alleged violent, nonconsensual encounter with a 15-year-old girl in downtown Middlebury (while he, too, was 15) on Aug. 17, 2017. The case was transferred to criminal court last year but has yet to be resolved. A status conference is slated for Feb. 26 in Addison Superior Court, Criminal Division.

“We’re seven years into the case right now,” a frustrated Hill said.

It’s a case that Vekos’s office inherited from former Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans. Hill said she and her family were encouraged by the manner in which the office was handling the case during its infancy, through a youthful offender program. But when COVID hit in early 2020, it understandably threw the state and local court systems into a tailspin, in terms of delays, Hill noted.

Vekos was elected in November of 2022 and took over the office shortly thereafter, as acting State’s Attorney Peter Bevere had left to take another job. Hill said she and her family became concerned with a perceived lack of action on the case after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

“It was almost a year from the time she took over to the time we heard anything was happening in this case,” Hill said. “My first experience dealing with her was when we heard (Hinman) had been released.”

Hill said her daughter’s alleged assailant had been incarcerated for a conditions of release infraction. Hill said she learned of Hinman’s release on Sept. 29 of last year, during an in-person meeting with Vekos. During that meeting, Hill said she received multiple calls from her daughter. When the pair connected, she said she found her daughter to be “hysterical.”

The reason: “She was driving in Hinesburg and was at the stoplight (on Route 116), and he was driving the other way,” Hill said.

Hill said the family successfully pushed for additional conditions of release beyond the four standard ones that had been granted. Among the new requests, she said, was a nighttime curfew, which was granted.

But Hill believes if she, as a parent, “hadn’t made a fuss or stepped in, he would be out and free to do whatever he wanted.”

A sentencing hearing for Hinman was scheduled in November for a deal that Hill said her family opposed. She said Addison Superior Court Judge David R. Fenster rejected the proposed settlement and told them to go back to the drawing board. Hill said that proposed deal called for a two-year deferred sentence (probation), with credit for time served. This would have left him with six months of probation remaining, according to Hill.

“He hasn’t served any time for the original crime,” she said.

Fenster asked the parties to return to court for a status conference in two months, later during which time the prosecutor and defense counsel were asked to forge a new accord on a potential sentence, according to Hill. 

She said she received a new proposal from Vekos around five days before the January status conference. Vekos, according to Hill, included a caveat at the bottom of the proposal, stating, “I haven’t sent this to defense counsel yet.”

“She sent it to defense counsel Friday afternoon; court was on a Monday morning. Defense, at status conference, said, ‘I just received this Friday afternoon, I haven’t had a chance to review it with my client,’” Hill recounted.

So, they scheduled another status conference for Feb. 26.

“I don’t know when sentencing will occur at this point in time, because it keeps getting dragged out,” Hill said.

Adding to Hill’s concern is the manner in which she said Vekos has treated her family during meetings and court proceedings.

“I can’t emphasize enough the unprofessional conduct I’ve encountered every time I’ve met with her. Swearing at you in meetings, being extremely condescending, accusing the victim of things, doodling in court while I’m giving my impact statement,” she claimed.

As the case drags on, Hill is worried about the lasting impact on her daughter.

“It’s like this constant state of uneasiness and unrest. As a parent, I feel like I’m fighting every day to protect my child, and I shouldn’t have to be doing all the fighting,” she said, “The state should be fighting on our behalf; that’s what its job is — to protect the victims.

“My daughter will have PTSD from this her whole life,” she said. “There are certain things we don’t talk about, because they’re triggers. It will always affect her relationships.”

VOYEURISM CASE

Stephen Moore, 33, of Vergennes was charged with four misdemeanor counts of voyeurism on May 20, 2022, after having allegedly used his cellphone camera to record three separate women in various states of undress — without their knowledge or consent — at a home on at least three separate occasions during 2020.

One of the women was 17 at the time she was allegedly videoed by Moore, according to court records.

Vekos worked on a plea deal calling for six months of incarceration, with three years of probation. Survivors in the case had lobbied for more. Each of the four voyeurism counts carried a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

“We were shocked at how little the state was asking for,” one of the three survivors in the case told the Independent. “When we were talking about a plea deal, we made it very clear upfront we were not pleased at all with the plea deal.”

But the survivor claimed that, “The entire time, (Vekos) acted surprised and shocked every time we told her we weren’t pleased with the deal.

“She didn’t seem to take us very seriously.”

The survivor said she had concerns about Vekos’s demeanor during their interactions.

“Eva was very condescending and rude to the victims,” she said. “Trying to get information from her was like pulling teeth. She wouldn’t explain her reasoning for things.”

The survivor said she sees Vekos’s recent DUI citation as another red flag.

“Regardless of how she was with my case, deciding to show up at a crime scene (allegedly) drunk shows a severe lack of judgement,” she said.

A direct family member of the three survivors in the Moore case also voiced her concerns about Vekos’s handling of the case.

“She blatantly offered a sentence none of us were happy with, and we voiced that,” the survivors’ relative claimed. “She never once reached out to us to talk to us, to hear our voices.”

The relative alleged Vekos “couldn’t even answer simple questions the judge asked; she said, ‘If I recall right,’ that she ‘Didn’t know off hand,’ she would have to ‘Look back through the case file,’” the relative said.

Kyle L. Wilson, 30, then of Starksboro, was charged last October with four misdemeanor counts of disclosing sexually explicit images without consent, and one count of “disturbing the peace by phone — hate crime,” after having allegedly posted sexually explicit photos of his ex-partner online during January of 2022.

The survivor alleged to state police that Wilson had stolen her cellphone and had used it to post explicit photos of her without her consent on her Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. The survivor told police that Wilson had posted the material in revenge for her having broken up with him.

Wilson had previously been cited for second-degree aggravated domestic assault (a felony), interference with access to emergency services (misdemeanor), and first-degree unlawful restraint with risk of injury (felony), stemming from an alleged Dec. 5 incident involving the same survivor, according to court records.

The next hearing on the case is scheduled for April 15 in Addison Superior Court, criminal division.

The survivor in this case told the Independent about her experience with Vekos while making a deposition at the courthouse late last month.

“She acted uninterested and paid little to no attention,” the survivor alleged. “I started to have a panic attack while I was being asked questions (by one of the attorneys in the case), and she didn’t even intervene. She basically allowed him to rip me apart and turned her camera off like it was no big deal.”

The survivor also alleged she hadn’t been invited for input in plea agreement discussions. 

“I didn’t find out about the pleas she offered until after it was offered, and the court date was scheduled,” she claimed.

Sleigh’s aforementioned statement on behalf of Vekos reads:

“Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos is taking a medical leave for a short duration during this time of great tumult. This break will allow her to soon resume her position once fully grounded and up to the task.

“Ms. Vekos is extremely grateful to her hardworking and dedicated staff who will continue the important work of the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office in the meantime.

“Upon her return, Ms.  Vekos hopes to restore her previously excellent working relationship with Vermont State Police and local departments in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes — all of whom are deeply valued partners.

“Finally, she fully intends to restore the faith and trust of her constituency, and all involved in the Addison County justice system.”

Vekos is an elected county official. The only way she could be removed from office is through a lengthy legislative impeachment process. Sen Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, is leading an effort to amend the Vermont Constitution in a manner that would establish basic qualifications for elected county officers and create what Hardy called “a more straightforward process for removal from office.” That initiative, Proposal 1, is currently stalled in the Senate.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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