By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
MIDDLEBURY — Addison District Judge Helen Toor on Monday sent George Dean Martin back to jail for another year for causing the deaths of two children in a July 4, 2002, boating accident on Lake Champlain.
Martin was convicted in 2004 of two counts of boating while intoxicated death resulting and sentenced to six-to-10 years in jail — three-to-five years for each of the two counts. But after he spent three years in prison, the Vermont Supreme Court last August ordered Martin’s release and resentencing saying the law allowed for only one count in this case since both deaths occurred during the same incident.
Toor could have sent the former Charlotte resident, who had been living with his mother in Rochester since his release, back to prison for two more years. Noting nine mitigating factors, the judged settled on ordering a single year of additional jail time. The formal sentence was four-and-a-half to five years, with all suspended but four years.
Martin accepted the sentence silently. After hugging a family member, the bailiff took him from the court and back to jail.
Charlotte residents Steve and Laura Mack — whose children, four-year-old Trevor and nine-year-old Melissa, were killed in the boating accident — were in the Middlebury courtroom for the sentencing. They said they were satisfied with the sentence.
“It’s time to put it behind us,” Steve Mack said. “I think he has remorse. He lost a child (years ago), he knows what we are going through.”
CHANGE IN THE LAW
In a press conference after the sentencing, the Macks and Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn advocated for passage of a bill in the Legislature, H.599, that would change the law so that each death in a boating while intoxicated incident could be charged separately and it would increase the maximum penalty to 15 years in prison.
The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, was approved by the House on Jan. 23, and has been awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee since then.
“Hopefully this will put (the bill) to the top of the pile,” Steve Mack said. “People should contact their senators and get it passed this year.”
Quinn testified before a House committee in favor of H.599 and he said he was prepared to do the same in the Senate. “Each life you take deserves punishment,” he said.
Quinn pointed out that the change in the statute would, in the eyes of the law, treat killing a person while operating a boat drunk the same as killing a person while driving a car on the roads drunk.
Neither of the two senators representing Addison County and Brandon are on the Senate Judiciary Committee but both will look at the bill when it reaches the Senate floor.
Democratic Sen. Harold Giard said he would look into ways he could get H.599 pushed out of committee, noting that the Legislature “screwed that up” when they treated drunken boating different from drunken driving.
“I agree with John Quinn that wee need to line that up so they are similar,” Giard said.
Fellow Democratic Sen. Claire Ayer said it is always good to clarify the law.
In Monday’s sentencing hearing, Martin’s lawyers had argued strenuously that he had paid the price for his crime and should not be sent back to prison.
He spent three years in prison — most of it in a medium-security facility in Kentucky that, after a riot, was in a lockdown that only allowed Martin one hour a day outside his cell for 10 months. His father died while he was in prison. He sold his Charlotte home to pay $600,000 of the $2.4 million settlement of a civil suit brought by the Macks (the balance was paid by insurance). As directed in his original sentencing, he donated $7,500 to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.
In addition, they pointed out that he has spent $7,000 of his own money and 100 hours creating a prison library, that he has overcome his problems with alcohol and that he has not violated conditions of his parole.
Attorney Richard Rubin noted that Martin has been gainfully employed. Court records include a letter of support for Martin from a retired Marine Corps colonel who explains that Martin works for CRP Ltd., a Virginia company that acquires military hardware from foreign governments to be analyzed by the U.S. military. The letter notes that Martin travels to foreign countries and is available “on an almost 24-7 basis.” A separate document notes that Martin had been restoring aircraft and helping out at the Middlebury airport.
Martin’s sister Nancy Martin testified in the hearing, by phone, that her brother was needed at home to care for their mother, Mary Martin. Nancy Martin said that her mother was injured in a car accident in November but did not get the needed treatment until Dean intervened and got her to New York City, where Nancy lives. Nancy said that her mother has returned home but still wears a cast on her arm and the incident points out the need for Dean Martin’s continued presence in his mother’s home.
Quinn read a statement in court on behalf of the Macks. In it they said they were on “an emotional roller coaster” and that “our saving grace is we have our one remaining child,” who was in between Melissa and Trevor in birth order. They said that Laura Mack’s parents, like Martin’s mother, needed care and that both had been in the intensive care unit.
For his own part, Quinn asked for a stern sentence, saying Martin’s “actions were completely irresponsible. He snuffed out the lives of two children that had 50, 60, 70 years ahead of them.”
Martin himself made a plea to Judge Toor.
“I wake up every day dealing with this,” he said in court. “It was a bad judgment. I know I shouldn’t have gone out, but that doesn’t change anything.”
While acknowledging that Martin had paid a price and that he acknowledged “for the first time that you should not have gone out that night,” Judge Toor nonetheless chose to sent him back to prison. She also ordered 400 hours of community service to a public safety agency and restitution, which had already been paid as part of the first sentence.
It was the return to jail that struck everyone in the courtroom. Martin’s lawyers did not say if they would appeal the sentence, but the Macks said the believed Martin would have served the additional time before the Vermont Supreme Court could hear an appeal. Despite repeated arguments from Rubin, Toor declined to stay Martin’s sentence in case of appeal.
“You took 11 people out on a boat that night and you let two of them slip away,” Toor said to Martin in sentencing. “You can never bring back those two children … There are some things too horrible to erase from the ledger ad the deaths of two children is at the top of that list..”