|After a sentencing hearing lasting several hours Tuesday morning, Judge Kathleen Manley sentenced Jeffrey Plourde, 19, of Lyndonville, to 18 to 36 months to serve in prison with credit for time already served and placed him on probation for five to 10 years.|
He had pleaded guilty earlier to animal cruelty, burglary, petty larceny and possession of stolen property.
On the night of Oct. 16, 2004, Kelley Willis repeated her nightly ritual of opening the door of her Charles Street home in Lyndonville to let her 2-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever out for a few minutes.
What happened next weighed heavily on Willis' mind for a year and a half.
Less than an hour after letting Kacy out, the dog returned, in terrible pain from sadistic torture at the hands of an assailant and so seriously injured physically and psychologically that it had to be put to sleep after it became clear a veterinarian's care would not be enough to heal her pet.
Lyndonville Police Chief Jack Harris subsequently conducted an investigation that led to charges against Jeffrey Plourde, a teenager living up the street from Willis. News of Kacy's torture touched off a public outcry, and Plourde's arraignment attracted statewide media interest.
On April 5, Plourde pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated cruelty to animals, burglary, petty larceny and possession of stolen property. During that hearing, Caledonia County State's Attorney Robert Butterfield agreed to recommend a sentence of 18 to 36 months to serve on the cruelty charge with concurrent sentences of 6 to 12 months to serve on the charges of petty larceny and possession of stolen property.
On the burglary charge, the state recommended 5 to 10 years to serve, all suspended on probation except for 18 to 36 months to serve concurrent to the cruelty sentence.
The state and Plourde's attorney, Jill Jourdan, agreed a presentencing investigation would be conducted by the Department of Corrections and that the state would agree to cap the sentence sought by the state. The defense would be free to argue for a lesser sentence at a formal sentencing hearing.
On Tuesday morning in Caledonia District Court, Plourde, 19, was led into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons from his prison cell at the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury.
Kelley Willis was there too, along with some of her supporters and family members, as she has been for all of Plourde's court appearances on the cruelty charge. One of Willis' friends wore a T-shirt with a photograph of Kacy standing on the shore of a pond with a stick in his mouth.
Plourde was there to be sentenced on a felony charge of burglary which, by law, carries a much stiffer penalty than the cruelty charge. He was to be sentenced for misdemeanor counts of petty larceny and possession of stolen property.
But, Butterfield told the court Tuesday, "What's driving this case is the cruelty charge."
Butterfield then introduced Willis and asked her to address the court.
She walked slowly to the podium and asked the court to sentence Plourde to the maximum sentence allowed by law on the cruelty charge. She said enduring the torture of her dog and the dog's suffering "has affected my whole life." She said she asks herself: "How could I have failed to protect my dog? What could I have done differently?"
Referring to her dog's tormentor, Willis told Judge Manley the crime has "never been anything but a joke to him." About a week after her dog was euthanized, Plourde and some of his friends tried to run over her and laughed and barked at her.
"I really don't think there's any rehabilitation because what he did is not even human," she concluded.
Also testifying briefly was Marc Plourde of Lyndonville, Jeffrey's father. He told the court both he and Jeffrey's mother, Beverly Before of Lyndonville, had a close relationship with their son and communicated with him while he was incarcerated awaiting sentencing. Jeffrey Plourde, who left Lyndon Institute his sophomore year, obtained his high school diploma from the Community High School of Vermont, according to his father.
Under questioning by Butterfield, Jeffrey's father admitted his son had never had a job while he lived with his father. He said his son never worked during the summer or while he was on school vacation.
When it was time to hear from the victims of Plourde's other crimes, Butterfield told Judge Manley that Mattie Mitchell, 35, of Lyndon, who had power tools, jars of coins and other items stolen from her home, had not responded to his offers to have her file a victim impact statement or testify at the sentencing. Plourde stole items from her home on Jan. 16, 2005.
Jerry Prevost, 56, Lyndonville, whose son was a former acquaintance of Plourde, filed a victim impact statement that suggested Plourde should receive both jail time and rehabilitation, Butterfield said. Plourde burglarized Prevost's home on Jan. 30, 2005, stealing some video games from a bedroom.
Explaining the state's sentence recommendation, Butterfield tended to minimize the burglary, petty larceny and stolen property charges, suggesting the crimes were not untypical of crimes committed by youthful offenders.
"The cruelty case raises different issues," Butterfield said, noting it speaks to "a deep-seated pathology" and represents "a danger to society."
Butterfield also discussed the statutory maximum of three years to serve on the cruelty charge, and the maximum sentence of 15 years to serve on a felony burglary conviction. Butterfield told the court the burglary charge allowed him to craft a flexible sentence not possible if Plourde was charged solely with animal cruelty.
"There's no denying a real possibility Plourde may be a sociopath," Butterfield said in discussing the rationale for a sentence with a period of incarceration followed by a 10-year probationary period. "But there's a strong possibility he's not a sociopath."
Butterfield believes lengthy probation with numerous conditions attached to the probation allow Plourde to change his behaviors.
"He's not unintelligent; he does have the ability to abide by these conditions," Butterfield said.
Turning to the public outcry over the animal cruelty case, Butterfield said there had been "greater expression than anything I've seen in 25 years."
He said there appears to be a cultural phenomenon in which society tends to see human crime victims as somehow compliant in their victimization. But, according to Butterfield, society sees pets as not having the capacity to be anything but innocent. He added that dogs and similar pets are particularly vulnerable and Kacy "was particularly susceptible to crimes like this."
Butterfield argued the sentence "exposes him to a lengthy period of incarceration" and makes Plourde subject to extensive conditions. He added, "I'm sure he's going to be closely supervised by the Department of Corrections."
Butterfield reported citizens called Lyndonville police and his office with regular reports while Plourde was out on conditions of release. The prosecutor added that probation could be revoked and Plourde could serve the better part of 10 years.
Jourdan spoke on behalf of the defendant, agreeing with Butterfield's assessment, saying "Jeff may have some deep-seated problems, but he may not." She told the court "everyone was repulsed by his actions," and conceded her client had a very hard time taking responsibility. "The sentence is appropriate," Jourdan said. "It's punitive and it has a rehabilitative structure to it."
After a recess to consider the testimony heard, Judge Manley returned to the bench to sentence Plourde. She described Plourde's crime as "repulsive" and "particularly heinous."
Manley said imprisonment without rehabilitation would mean that when Plourde was inevitably released from prison, he would not be safe out in the community.
She said Plourde would serve 18 months with credit for time already served and that it would be "up to Mr. Plourde how long he ultimately spends in jail." The judge said Plourde has yet to accept responsibility for what he has done or acknowledge it.
"Until he does so," she added, "he will not be eligible for release from jail."
Judge Manley imposed special conditions beyond the normal standard conditions of probation. Once Plourde is released, he must have no contact with Mattie Mitchell or her child, participate in in the community reparative program, write letters of apology to all of the victims, not possess any firearms, not hunt or fish or accompany anyone who is, not own pets, not consume alcohol, and participate in substance abuse counseling as required by his probation officer.
Plourde is awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault, domestic assault and violation of conditions of release for allegedly raping his girlfriend. He is represented in the pending cases by attorney David Sleigh of St. Johnsbury. No trial date has been set.