August 30, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MONTPELIER — The parents of two children killed in a July 4, 2002, boating accident on Lake Champlain said they are disappointed with the Vermont Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to release the man who was convicted of two counts of boating while intoxicated in connection with the fateful mishap.
The state’s highest court on Aug. 21 ordered that George Dean Martin, formerly of Middlebury, be released at the end of year three of what had been a six-year jail sentence handed down by Addison County District Court Judge Helen Toor in August of 2004.
The court ordered the release pending their ruling on an appeal in the case.
Martin’s attorneys had appealed the sentence, arguing among other things that Martin should have only been sentenced for the single offense of boating while intoxicated — not the two separate counts (each carrying three years) for each child killed during the accident.
The case involved Martin’s piloting of a MacGregor 26 motorized sailboat, which he capsized that July 4, 2002, while pulling away from a fireworks display at the Basin Harbor Club off Ferrisburgh. Killed in the accident were Melissa and Trevor Mack, ages 9 and 4, respectively, of Charlotte.
Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn, the lead prosecutor in the Martin case, said he feared the Supreme Court’s decision to release Martin pending appeal may be a precursor to his permanent release.
“I’m a little surprised, because there was no pending motion from the defense for (Martin’s) release,” Quinn added.
Quinn suspects the Supreme Court may be applying the standards of a another adjudicated case — State vs. Michael LaBounty — in evaluating Martin’s appeal.
LaBounty had been convicted in Franklin County District Court on two counts of grossly negligent driving in connection with an incident in which two victims had been injured. But LaBounty successfully argued on appeal to the high court that “grossly negligent operation of the vehicle allowed for only one conviction arising from a single act of driving, regardless of multiple victims.”
Quinn is concerned that this standard would not reflect adequate punishment in a boating-while-intoxicated case such as Martin’s, in which two lives were lost.
“To some extent, it diminishes the value of life,” Quinn said.
It also illustrates ambiguities in state law that should be rectified, according to Quinn.
“I don’t think the Legislature intended what the Supreme Court is saying here,” Quinn said.
State Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He said that while the Martin case would seem to justify a re-examination of boating-while-intoxicated law, the timing of that chore could be tricky.
“I feel it may be premature to do anything until we see the actual (Supreme Court) opinion” on the Martin appeal, Jewett said.
Steve and Laura Mack, Melissa and Trevor’s parents, were concerned with the court’s decision last week to release Martin, but they remain hopeful that Martin’s release may only be temporary.
“It doesn’t seem right, a year and a half per life is all he spends,” Steve Mack said. “Hopefully, when (the court) makes its final judgment in the appeal, it will come out in our favor.”
Mack added there is little he and his family can do at this point to influence how much time Martin spends in jail.
“It’s nothing we control,” Mack said. “It’s up to the people in Montpelier and the Supreme Court.”
Attorney Richard Rubin, part of Martin’s defense team, said his client is enjoying his newfound freedom. While out of prison, the court has ordered that Martin keep authorities informed of his whereabouts, that he not be charged with any new offense and that he not buy or consume alcohol.
“I can say that Dean has served three long years in jail and he’s happy to be back with his family,” Rubin said. “He hopes not to have to go back to jail.”