Wilton woman acquitted in ax-attack trial

Posted March 15, 2013, at 9:27 a.m.

FARMINGTON — A Franklin County jury acquitted a Wilton woman of all charges and a Rumford man of aggravated assault Thursday.

Justice Michaela Murphy declared a hung jury after the panel deadlocked on two lesser charges against Brian Sweeney, 32.

Shari Dupree, 32, and Sweeney were accused of attacking Jeremiah Gattis and his girlfriend, Stephanie Buzzell, with an ax and a meat cleaver in the late evening of April 3, 2012, at their Poverty Lane home in Farmington.

The attack resulted from a disagreement over an unfinished tattoo Gattis gave Sweeney earlier that day, according to the defense. Gattis, however, denied it was related, according to testimony.

The jury reached its decision on the charges against Dupree in less than four hours over two days of deliberation. They found her not guilty of felony aggravated assault and two misdemeanor charges of assault.

The jury found Sweeney not guilty of felony aggravated assault against Gattis after about five hours of deliberation. They deadlocked on two misdemeanor counts of assault.

The felony aggravated assault charge included a misdemeanor assault charge.

Prior to deliberations Thursday, the jury asked for a reread of Buzzell’s testimony and some of Gattis’.

The jury heard testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, deliberating for three hours Wednesday afternoon and two hours Thursday morning.

The jury foreman notified the judge they had reached agreement on some charges but were deadlocked on others. Justice Murphy sent them back to the jury room to try and work it out, but later advised they believed they could not.

On Wednesday, Justice Murphy granted judgments of acquittal on felony burglary and misdemeanor criminal mischief that each defendant faced.

She put the misdemeanor assault charges against Sweeney on the docket for June. It will be up to state prosecutors to decide whether to pursue them, she said.

Justice Murphy lowered Sweeney’s bail from $3,500 cash that his father previously posted for him to $500 cash.

She also allowed a no contact provision to be lifted against Sweeney and Dupree, contrary to Assistant District Attorney Joshua Robbins’ request.

According to testimony, Buzzell said she and Gattis were watching TV in the bedroom when a tap sounded on the window April 3. She opened the window a bit and said “hello” and an ax came crashing through, just missing her. She said Sweeney, a friend of both she and Gattis, stuck his head in the window.

Gattis testified he jumped up and ran to the front door and the glass was crashing in and Sweeney’s hand reached in to open it. He said he grabbed hold of the ax Sweeney had and they struggled. He also testified that though he could not see Dupree, he recognized her voice and she was hitting him over the head with a meat cleaver. He said at one point he wrestled the two weapons away from them.

A recording a Farmington police officer did when he went to Dupree’s to see if Sweeney was there, had Dupree saying she didn’t understand why Gattis attacked her. She said she gave Sweeney a ride there to pick up his clothes. She also was heard saying Gattis was going crazy smashing up the mobile home when they left. She didn’t know she was being recorded at the time.

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