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Vermont trooper shoots, kills unarmed burglary suspect

Ryan Mercer | AP
Ryan Mercer | AP
Vermont State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance briefs members of the press at the barracks on Williston, Vt., on Tuesday, May 1, 2012, outlining how Jonathon Martel, 40, was shot by Trooper Dustin Robinson.
By WILSON RING, The Associated Press

WILLISTON, Vt. — An unarmed burglary suspect was killed after refusing a trooper’s order to surrender and twice took a “shooter’s stance” while aiming at the trooper what turned out to be a cellphone, the head of the Vermont State Police said Tuesday.

Before he died on the way to the hospital, Jonathon Martel, 40, of Stowe told the trooper who had shot him that he “wanted to die,” State police Col. Thomas L’Esperance said during a news conference at the state police barracks in Williston.

The trooper who fired the shot, Senior Trooper Dustin Robinson, 31, a three-year veteran who has been placed on administrative leave, was the only person who witnessed the shooting that took place at about 12:45 p.m. Monday in a wooded section of Cambridge.

Martel is believed to have been hit by one round fired by Robinson, but the trooper fired seven other times. As of mid-afternoon Tuesday an autopsy had not been completed.

L’Esperance, who spoke Tuesday with Martel’s mother, said detectives had spoken with people who said Martel had been discussing suicide for several weeks.

“I do have information that Mr. Martel had a significant drug habit that he was trying to support,” L’Esperance said. “Family members and others have told us he has had a very difficult struggle with addiction.”

State police are doing the initial investigation of the shooting. Once police are done, the case will be turned over to the office of the Lamoille County state’s attorney and the Vermont Attorney General to decide if the shooting was justified.

L’Esperance said Martel was a Vermont native who had moved to Florida and then returned to Vermont. L’Esperance did not know where in Vermont Martel was from or when he moved back to the state.

Police and Lamoille County sheriff’s deputies began chasing Martel’s car early Monday afternoon after it had been reported to have been involved in a burglary in Johnson. The car was chased to the back road in Cambridge where Robinson chased Martel through the woods while other officers were nearby.

“Trooper Robinson ordered Martel repeatedly to stop and show his hands. Martel had his back to Trooper Robinson and was fidgeting with his waistband. Martel then quickly turned around in a shooter’s type stance, pointing a metallic object in Trooper Robinson’s direction,” L’Esperance said.

Robinson first fired seven rounds and Martel moved out of sight down a knoll. Robinson then saw Martel again and ordered him to stop and show his hands. Robinson then fired another round and took cover behind a tree before seeing Martel fall, L’Esperance said.

While rendering assistance, Robinson noticed Martel holding a cellphone and asked why Martel pointed it at him. Martel responded, “I wanted to die,” L’Esperance said.

Even though it turned out that Martel was unarmed, L’Esperance said Martel made the decisions that led to his death.

“John Martel made a decision when he was confronted by Trooper Robinson, after being repeatedly told to show his hands and things like that, he made a decision to form a shooter’s stance apparently to indicate that he had a weapon in his hand and John Martel did that twice,” L’Esperance said.


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