By Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First,
BURLINGTON — A Bennington homicide defendant, who was due to go on trial this week in federal court on three gun and drug charges, has won another postponement when he fired his latest lawyer during a hearing that included him “f-bombing” the court eight times.
The meltdown by Deven D. Moffitt, 33, came as he claimed his defense lawyer Karen Shingler of South Burlington was a government agent.
Deven Moffitt of Bennington
“I’m done. You all are snakes, bro. You’re (expletive) snakes,” Moffitt said during a 41-minute hearing in U.S. District Court on Friday afternoon.
Federal Judge Christina Reiss agreed toward the end of the hearing to a request by Moffitt that he be allowed to leave the court hearing as she continued to meet with lawyers in the case.
Reiss said she found Moffitt’s claims about Shingler being a double agent and destroying the defendant’s case were without any merit. Reiss noted Shingler is an experienced lawyer and that Moffitt had stopped communicating with her.
Reiss eventually allowed Shingler to leave the case after she reported that it could be difficult defending him when he was not speaking to her.
Moffitt, who has been trying to delay his federal trial until after his state homicide trial, had won earlier delays, including in August when he had a breakdown in communication with his then defense lawyer Robert Sussman of Burlington.
Moffitt has pleaded not guilty in state court to a charge of second-degree murder in the July 2019 death of Jessica “Red” Hildenbrandt, 43, of Ballston Spa, N.Y. in Bennington County.
During the federal court hearing Reiss noted the irony that Moffitt had maintained he was unhappy with Sussman’s defense work in the federal trial, but continues to use him for the homicide case.
Moffitt also told Reiss he was unaware of the start date in his upcoming homicide trial, but the state court set jury selection for May 7, court records show. Testimony is due to start the next day and Vermont Superior Court Judge Kerry Ann McDonald-Cady has set aside 10 days for the trial in Bennington.
Reiss said she would move quickly to find Moffitt a new lawyer and said he or she may come from outside of Vermont.
Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Drescher said the prosecution would help bring the new defense lawyer up to speed on the case.
Reiss agreed to cancel the potential jurors that had been due to report on Monday. It had been planned as a “Pick-and-Go” trial. Five days had been set aside for the federal case.
Reiss ruled that any further “disruptive motions to withdraw at the eve of trial or for frivolous grounds may result in the forfeiture of counsel.”
The judge noted that Moffitt, despite claims he was unaware of the government’s case, had attended a suppression hearing in which various police videos of his arrest were played.
“I do not find truthful your statement that you have never seen discovery. You were in the courtroom watching a video of your arrest. The court has summarized what happened. There also is a clip of your interview. Ms. Shingler was going to show you it again, and you refused to look at it,” Reiss said.
Moffitt maintained he never refused and Shingler never offered.
The judge told him a couple of times to stop interrupting her, but he continued on.
“Dont lie – don’t lie on me bro,” Moffitt told the judge.
The judge warned him a few more times as he continued to interrupt her. Reiss warned him she did not want to hold him in contempt.
“I don’t care,” Moffitt said.
“Well, it’s your case, and we’re going to give you a fair trial,” Reiss explained.
Reiss eventually ordered him to sit down, but he ignored it, and a deputy federal marshal directed him to sit down.
As the judge and marshal tried to speak to him, Moffitt became more vocal and used the “f-word” several times.
He was later escorted out of the fifth-floor courtroom and back to a holding cell.
Moffitt has pleaded not guilty in federal court to being a convicted felon in possession of two loaded firearms when he was arrested on the homicide charge in Bennington on June 1, 2022.
He also has denied two other federal charges from his arrest that day: possession of both fentanyl and cocaine with intent to distribute the drugs and possession of both a .22-caliber revolver and a 9-mm pistol to help facilitate his drug trafficking.
Moffitt knows he is prohibited from possessing any firearms because he is a convicted felon, records show. He has at least three felonies: for escape on April 12, 2022; for unlawful trespass into an occupied residence on Nov. 16, 2015; and for aggravated assault on Aug. 6, 2009, court documents note.
Moffitt and Hildenbrandt had a rocky relationship, and her body was found on Sept. 17, 2019 in a gravel pit off Somerset Road in the rural town of Searsburg, about 15 miles east of Bennington.
State police said a man initially reported what appeared to be a human jawbone more than 4 years ago in Searsburg, a community of about 125 people. As investigators combed the area, they found more body parts in a shallow grave and it took about a year before they could confirm her identity.
DNA evidence helped identify the victim and the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but the cause was not released.
Vermont State Police chased various leads for almost three years before investigators had enough evidence to justify Moffitt’s arrest in June 2022, officials said.
He tried to flee as state and Bennington Police and Homeland Security Investigations moved in to arrest him near Brookside Apartments on South Street on June 1, 2022, officials said. Moffitt was subsequently caught nearby on Jefferson Avenue.
Authorities recovered 3,570 bags of suspected fentanyl, 20 grams of suspected crack cocaine, 23 grams of suspected powder cocaine, a fully loaded .22-caliber revolver, a loaded 9-mm pistol with the safety deactivated, $16,474 in cash, digital scales and multiple cellphones, court records show.
All the state charges stem from an elaborate joint investigation by state and Bennington Police, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.