ST. ALBANS — A Georgia man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder charges in Franklin County Superior Court, a day after a shooting left one dead and one seriously wounded.
Attorneys for Ethan Gratton, 26, said at his arraignment that Gratton had acted in self-defense after an altercation with two men who were using the driveway of his family’s Georgia Mountain Road home to turn around their truck and skidder trailer. Gratton told the men to get out of his driveway, and a fight ensued, according to authorities.
David Hill, 57, who operated a Fairfax trucking company, suffered multiple gunshots to his head and torso and died at the scene, according to police. Mark Brito, 27, was taken to Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans and then the University of Vermont Medical Center.
A hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon that Brito was still in critical condition. He was shot once in the head, according to the police affidavit in the case.
A large number of Hill’s and Brito’s relatives and friends attended the arraignment. It was unclear if Gratton’s family was there.
Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes requested that Gratton be held without bail, arguing there is strong evidence of his guilt — the standard for denying bail — and because he may be a suicide risk.
Superior Court Judge Gregory Rainville granted the request until a bail hearing can be scheduled. Gratton is being held at Northwest State Correctional Facility.
Hughes said Gratton could be heard in the background of a 911 call — in which his mother reported the shooting — saying he shot the two men after being punched. Gratton could also be heard making suicidal statements during that call, Hughes said, which he cited as further reason he should be denied bail.
“I … shot them,” a male voice can be heard saying in a recording of the 911 call, according to an affidavit.
“I don’t care. I’ll shoot myself. … I ain’t going to jail,” the man adds.
Attorneys for Gratton said he acted in self-defense, adding that the shooting occurred on his property and he was punched in the face at least three times, suffering a broken nose and losing a tooth. Gratton had visible bruising on his face in court Tuesday.
Hughes countered that the altercation was over before the shooting and that Gratton had ample opportunity to retreat before that point.
Hughes and public defender Steve Dunham, who represented Gratton at his arraignment, disputed whether Gratton had the handgun that was used in the shooting during the altercation or if he retrieved it afterward and then allegedly shot Hill and Brito.
A state trooper who was first on the scene reported finding Gratton sitting in the back seat of his mother’s car, which was also in the driveway, and that the .40-caliber handgun and an expended shell casing were in the trunk, according to the affidavit.
Another trooper found footprints and what appeared to be droplets of blood leading to the Gratton home. There was also what appeared to be blood in kitchen sink and smeared on the curtain of a sliding door, according to the affidavit.
Speaking after the arraignment, Hughes said state police investigating the shooting found footprints and bloodstains that suggest Gratton retrieved the gun after the initial altercation. Hughes said the state is “at a bit of a disadvantage” because Gratton’s version of the shooting is the only one available.
Investigators continue to process the crime scene and are gathering further statements from people who were in the area, some of whom heard the shoots and saw the aftermath.
Hughes said it’s unclear if Gratton and the men who were shot knew each other, though Gratton can be heard saying Hill punched him in the 911 recording. However, Hill was driving a truck with his eponymous company logo on the side, Hughes said.
Dunham may appear on Gratton’s behalf at the bail hearing, but Gratton, who worked at a local deli, doesn’t qualify for a public defender because of that income. He will have to hire a private defense attorney or represent himself, Judge Rainville said.