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David Vaz

Other Vermont exonerations
On November 12, 2017, 20-year-old Damian Daniels was beaten and tortured at a drug house in Lowell, Vermont. Daniels later told police that several men, including 27-year-old David Vaz, accused him of providing information to police about Vaz and the others being involved in the drug trade.

Daniels said his hands were tied behind his back and his cousin, Tyler Glodgett, sliced Daniels’s face with a box cutter. Daniels said his head was shaved and a bottle was broken over it. He said a garbage bag was put over his head until he nearly suffocated. Daniels said Glodgett branded him with a red-hot fork.

Daniels said he was kicked and punched. Ultimately, he said he was able to flee, went to a neighbor’s house, and called police.

Weeks later, police arrested Blodgett and two others, Joshua Bedard and Justin Peters, on charges of attempted first degree murder, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and aggravated assault.

On March 24, 2018, Newport City police pulled over a vehicle containing Vaz, a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the driver, Michael Sinquell-Gainey. During a search of the vehicle, police found heroin and fentanyl. Both men were arrested. The following day, Vaz was charged with kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and aggravated assault for participating in the attack on Daniels.

In November 2020, a judge ruled that the police had no probable cause to pull over the car containing Vaz and Sinquell-Gainey and ordered the drug evidence suppressed. On appeal, the ruling was vacated and remanded. The case remained pending in September 2023.

Meanwhile, Glodgett, Bedard, and Peters had pled guilty to taking part in the attack on Daniels.

In June 2022, Vaz went to trial in Orleans County Superior Court on the charges relating to the attack on Daniels. The defense contended that while Vaz may have been in the house during part of the attack on Daniels, he did not take part in it. The prosecution’s case relied primarily on the testimony of Daniels, who said that Vaz had indeed been among those who beat and tortured him. One of the others who had pled guilty, Justin Peters, also testified, pursuant to his plea agreement, that Vaz took part in the beating.

On June 24, 2022, a jury convicted Vaz of kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and aggravated assault.

A new attorney, Joshua Stern, took over representing Vaz for sentencing. On January 11, 2023, less than a week prior to sentencing, the prosecution disclosed to Stern an affidavit that had been filed in 2021 in connection with a separate prosecution of Daniels for an unrelated shooting. At the time, the prosecution said that it “had been disclosed already through prior counsel, but in an overabundance of caution” was disclosing it to Stern.

The documents related to charges filed against Daniels in December 2021, six months prior to Vaz’s trial. Daniels had been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment for allegedly shooting a gun at or near Christopher Lightfoot in Coventry, Vermont, in April 2021.

The documents showed that when interviewed by Vermont State Police, Daniels claimed that he had not been in Coventry that night, that he hung out with Jonathan Jones and Anna Crosher for three or four hours, then went home. He told police his car was parked behind his apartment because had been cleaning and vacuuming it earlier. He denied owning or possessing a gun because was a felon.

Police had determined that the car had not been cleaned out, and they found a shell casing in the vehicle. When police interviewed Jones and Crosher, both said that Daniels had asked them to provide false alibis for him. Stern spoke to Vaz’s trial defense attorney, Zachery Weight, who said he had not been provided the information.

On January 16, 2023, Stern filed a motion requesting that the charges against Vaz be dismissed or he be given a new trial. The motion noted that Daniels’s testimony was “the most important evidence” against Vaz. The newly disclosed evidence showed that Daniels “lied to police, gave them a false alibi, and then asked other witnesses to lie about the alibi to the police as well.”

The evidence, Stern argued, could have been used to impeach Daniels’s credibility at trial.

The prosecution opposed the motion, contending the evidence would not have made a difference in the trial, and pointed to the testimony of co-defendant Peters.

In response, Stern noted that outside of Daniels’s account, “the only other eyewitness account came from Justin Peters, a codefendant with a clear incentive to provide testimony favorable to the state, both in order to obtain favorable treatment in his own case and to minimize his own involvement by casting [Vaz] as the main aggressor.”

By this time, the lead prosecutor at Vaz’s trial, Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett had been appointed to a judgeship in Windham County.

On March 14, 2023, Orleans County Superior Court Judge Lisa Warren granted the defense motion. The judge vacated Vaz’s convictions and dismissed the charges. Vaz was released.

The judge said, “The discovery violation in this case is clear, serious, and inexcusable.” The judge added, “It is not an isolated incident, but rather appears to be a pattern of neglect in discovery practices.”

“Presentation of Mr. Daniels’[s] ostensibly mendacious conduct to the jury would likely have affected the jury’s view of his honesty and the reliability of his testimony in a way that would have favored [Vaz],” the judge declared.

The prosecution filed a notice of appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court. On August 13, 2023, a prosecution motion to dismiss its appeal was granted by the Vermont Supreme Court.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/19/2023
Last Updated: 9/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Kidnapping
Additional Convictions:Assault, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2017
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No