A Vermont man likely won't face prison after calling police and confessing to murder after being acquitted of the charge in 2004, according to a report from the Burlington Free Press.
Isaac Turnbaugh, of Randolph, Vt., was found not guilty in 2004 of first-degree murder in the killing of Declan Lyons, of Montpelier, Vt. Lyons, 24, was shot dead in 2002 while working at the American Flatbread Co., a local pizza restaurant.
Turnbaugh, 28, phoned the Randolph police in July and confessed to shooting Lyons in the head with a rifle. According to a law-enforcement account, Turnbaugh said on the phone he wanted to surrender to police, reported the Free Press.
This new account was filed along with a new charge alleging that Turnbaugh hit a Randolph police officer in the jaw after his confession. A local newspaper, The Herald of Randolph, first reported this incident.
Turnbaugh struck the police officer on July 6 during questioning after calling police and saying he wanted to confess, the Herald reported. For this incident, Turnbaugh was accused of simple assault on a police officer. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Although Turnbaugh allegedly admitted to the crime more than once, the state won't be able to do anything about it, said Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office prosecuted the original murder charge.
"You only get one bite of the apple. It's double jeopardy," Sorrell said in an interview with the Free Press. "You can go out on the courthouse steps and confess, and the state can't do anything."
Double jeopardy is a legal doctrine which says a defendant can only be charged once for a single crime. According to Sorrell, new non-murder charges relating to the incident can no longer be filed because the statute of limitations has passed. Police would also be unable to use any of the evidence they used in the murder trial.
At the original trial, Turnbaugh's defense team, lawyers Kurt Hughes and Frank Twarog, argued that he took responsibility for the crime because he was mentally ill, and not because he was actually involved.
"The jury chose to believe that someone who repeatedly confessed to the murder was lying, but that's the jury's right" Sorrell told the Free Press. "These are tough cases. You've got to live with the outcome."
Sorrell said the prosecution did a good job of presenting the evidence provided by the Vermont State Police. Police could complete no ballistics testing because the bullet that killed Lyons was never found.
Hughes and Twarog were able to raise enough reasonable doubt for acquittal, Sorrell said. Turnbaugh's lawyers said his history of mental illness was the type in which he may make false self-incriminating statements, the Free Press reported.
"He said the same thing before the trial. It is part of his mental illness, and he also claimed responsibility for 9/11,” Hughes told the Free Press. "The jury rightfully did not put a lot of stock in his statements. He was smoking pot, had mushrooms and mental illness."
Tim Bombardier, who was a Vermont State Police Detective during the original trial, said he remained convinced of Turnbaugh's guilt even after the acquittal, the Free Press reported.
"We had the right person," Bombardier said at the time. "If I honestly thought we had the wrong person, I wouldn’t have brought the case to the prosecution."
After Turnbaugh's arraignment for the July incident, he was sent to the Vermont State Hospital, where he is currently undergoing a mental-health evaluation.