Key witness is an issue in murder case
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | March 28,2013
A key witness in the murder case against Alex W. Spanos may not be present to testify at his trial, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Six months after the fatal Rutland car crash that killed 17-year-old Carly Ferro, the man allegedly behind the wheel was in Rutland criminal court Wednesday arguing that one of the passengers in his vehicle on the afternoon of Sept. 26 should be required to testify in person at his trial.
“We’re losing our ability to do a complete discovery and elicit testimony based on other depositions,” said John Brisson, one of Spanos’ defense attorneys. “This would undermine the right to confront a witness, cross-examination and the right to a fair trial.”
Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre asked that a videotaped deposition suffice as evidence before a jury. He said his office and Rutland City Police have had only sporadic and rare contact with the witness, Michael Longley.
Judge Theresa DiMauro granted the prosecution’s request at the end of the hourlong hearing Wednesday.
Longley, 27, told police he saw Spanos inhale from an aerosol can of Dust-Off moments before his Toyota Camry crashed at high speed into a row of parked cars outside Rutland Discount Foods on Cleveland Avenue.
Ferro, who was walking to her father’s parked car outside the store, was struck by one of the vehicles during the impact and died soon after.
After the crash, witnesses told police that Spanos and Longley tried to hide several cans of Dust-Off before officers arrived. Longley was never charged in connection with the crash.
Longley wasn’t the only passenger in Spanos’ car — Eva Lebo, 43, told police she also saw Spanos inhale from the can seconds before the crash.
Longley also told investigators he had seen Spanos take a hit from a can of Dust-Off and was almost knocked unconscious days before the crash.
Longley left the state in early October and probably won’t be around for the trial which, while scheduled to take place next month, will be delayed for months by depositions and other pre-trial discovery, lawyers in the case said Wednesday.
City police Officer Edward Dumas testified Wednesday that he helped Longley leave the area after threats against his life were made.
“He was receiving multiple death threats from people via Facebook and in person,” Dumas said.
With help from a local church, Longley bought a bus pass to Burlington where he has friends.
But after only a few days Longley left the state and wasn’t heard from again for four months until he called from Florida.
During the last month, Dumas said he has received messages via phone, text and on social media sites from Longley who has been working as a traveling magazine salesman in cities all over the South.
Dumas said Longley has contacted him from Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri.
The officer said he frequently reminded Longley of his obligation to return to Vermont for a deposition hearing March 29.
Longley returned days ahead of that date — but under desperate circumstances, Dumas said.
“He called from a hospital in St. Louis,” Dumas said. “He said he had been fired and beat up by other magazine people. I bought him a bus ticket back to Vermont.”
Longley is now staying at a hotel in the area and will appear for his deposition Friday, Brierre said, but he intends to return to Missouri where his former employers told police they plan to allow him to return to work on a “probationary” basis.
In the event that prosecutors and police are unable to find him at the time of the trial, Brierre asked that a videotape of the deposition serve as his testimony before a jury.
To add to its authenticity as courtroom testimony, Brierre said he intends to tape Longley answering questions from the prosecution and defense while seated at the witness stand in the Rutland courtroom. Spanos would also be present, though not on camera, he said.
That arrangement not only deprives the defense of future cross-examination, Brisson argued, but would provide only a sanitized view of Longley to the jury.
“It’s basically a ruse to the jury,” he said. “The state wants to make it look like he’s testifying in a courtroom in front of a jury but he’s really not.”
Brisson also argued that prosecutors and police would have no incentive to find Longley and bring him to trial if the motion was granted.
But as part of her ruling in favor of the prosecution, DiMauro said that before a videotape could be used, the prosecution would have to prove at trial that it had thoroughly tried to bring Longley to court.