Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Rutland City Police Chief James Baker, right, supports city patrolman Damon Nguyen after a bail hearing for 39-year-old Jennifer Berube, who was held without bail on a charge of attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Nguyen.
RUTLAND — Jennifer Berube’s attorney argued that the court should take his client at her word when she told investigators she didn’t intend to kill or even hurt Rutland Police Officer Damon Nguyen when she put a knife to his throat inside the police department last month.
But after watching a video that showed Berube silently approach the seated officer from behind before flinging her arms around him, Judge Theresa DiMauro said she based her decision to jail the transient woman on the deeds she saw, not the words she heard.
“Those statements can be viewed as self-serving, inaccurate and false in light of what was viewed,” the judge said. “While she may claim her intent was only to get the keys, a jury could find otherwise.”
Berube, 39, was jailed Dec. 28 after entering a plea of innocent to an attempted second-degree murder charge that could send her to jail for the rest of her life.
Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre requested at that hearing that she be jailed without the option of release by posting bail.
Vermont law requires that those requests — applicable only in cases where lifetime jail sentences could be applied — be subject to special hearings. Prosecutors must put sufficient evidence on the table to prove that a guilty verdict could be reached and that releasing a suspect on bail or conditions of release isn’t feasible.
In Berube’s case, it’s unlikely that she or her husband, John MacLean III, would have ever seen the inside of a jail cell if police had issued them criminal citations to appear in court after the pair allegedly tried Dec. 27 to use a credit card that didn’t belong to them at stores in Rutland.
But when the couple, who told police they are addicted to heroin, allegedly tried to run from police, they were stopped and taken to the city police department, where MacLean was placed in a holding cell and Berube was placed in an interview room during the booking process.
The event that led prosecutors to seek an attempted murder charge played out on a projection screen in court in much the same way as a city police detective described it last month in a written affidavit.
After looking in on Berube, Nguyen can be seen turning his attention to work on a computer.
Berube enters the screen from behind him. She is seen unfolding a small knife that police said had a blade that was less than 3 inches long. She approaches him from behind and seemingly catches him by surprise as she throws her arms around him and brings the knife to his throat.
The struggle that ensues is chaotic, with Nguyen standing up quickly and struggling with Berube, who is eventually wrestled to the floor after other officers arrive to assist him.
The audio from the video is filled with screams and cursing and, at the end of the incident after officers lock her in a cell and leave the holding area, there is a brief exchange between Berube and MacLean, who is never seen in the video and appears confused about what’s taking place.
“I was trying to get the keys so I could get you out,” Berube can be heard saying.
“Why the (expletive) would you do that?” MacLean responds.
Later that night, in an interview with Rutland Detective David LaChance, Berube said she remembered almost nothing about the incident after finding the knife, which she told investigators she found on the floor of the interview room.
“Honestly, I don’t know what happened. I found the knife and I just lost it,” she told LaChance. “I don’t remember anything else until I was pinned to the floor.”
The former Maine woman also told LaChance during the interview that her addiction to heroin and other drugs had cost her a career as a nurse and her three children.
How Berube came into possession of a potentially deadly weapon is the subject of an internal review that Rutland Police Chief James Baker, who came to the hearing Tuesday, said is almost complete.
LaChance, who was called to testify Tuesday, told the court that Berube was also in possession of a syringe when she was subdued.
During cross examination of witnesses and in his arguments, Berube’s attorney Daniel Sedon argued that prosecutors lacked any proof that his client intended to kill the officer and he pointed to her repeated statements that she wanted only to get the keys that Nguyen had as proof that she only wanted to coerce the officer into releasing her husband.
“There is no direct evidence that Mrs. Berube intended to harm Officer Nguyen,” Sedon said. “We have an argument based on inferences of certain actions but the only direct evidence in the case are her statements and in her words she not only didn’t intend to harm him she was sorry he suffered any injury at all.”
But Nguyen, who was present in the courtroom but didn’t testify on Tuesday, carried the scars of his injuries including a two-inch scar near his jugular vein where police say the blade made a crooked slash. On the left side of Nguyen’s face were gouges that police say were left by Berube’s fingernails as she struggled with him and continued to try to stab him after he leapt up to defend himself.
“The state submits it has substantial evidence of intent because there was a deadly weapon used with stealth from behind to an area of the neck that could prove fatal. But for his own actions, the knife would have sliced across the front of his throat,” Brierre told the court.
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