Crime and Justice

State police retract claim about suspect in Fern Feather investigation

Seth Brunell attends his arraignment where his attorney entered a plea of not guilty in the April 12 stabbing death of Fern Feather, a transgender woman from Hinesburg. Screenshot

Editor’s note: An initial version of this story reported the Vermont State Police’s assertion Tuesday that Seth Brunell is the father of Zane Davison. The story was corrected Wednesday to make clear that they are not related. 

The Vermont State Police on Wednesday retracted a claim that the suspect in last week’s killing of Fern Feather was the father of a man who had previously had a violent encounter with Feather. 

Police said, however, that they are continuing to investigate whether the suspect in Feather’s slaying, Seth Brunell, may have mistakenly believed that his son was involved in a violent episode with Feather a year prior. 

State prosecutors have charged Brunell with second-degree murder in the April 12 killing of Feather, a transgender woman, in Morristown. Brunell has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury. 

State police spokesperson Adam Silverman told VTDigger on Tuesday that Brunell is the father of Zane Davison, who had a violent encounter with Feather in March 2021. Silverman said at the time that the alleged connection was “an aspect of the investigation.”

Following publication of an earlier version of this story, multiple people with ties to Brunell and Davison disputed that they were related. After VTDigger alerted state police to the discrepancy Wednesday morning, Silverman that afternoon retracted the claim. 

The agency “looked into this potential connection further and determined that although Brunell has a son named Zane, that person is a different person from Zane Davison,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.

“However,” Silverman continued, “VSP is investigating whether Brunell might have believed his son was the ‘Zane’ involved in the 2021 altercation with Fern Feather in Morrisville. This remains an aspect of the ongoing homicide investigation, and no further details are available at this time.”

The March 2021 altercation is described in a Morristown Police Department report released Monday through a public records request. According to the report, Davison and Feather accused one another of physical assault after a night of drinking. 

Davison alleged that Feather had attacked him after Davison refused to engage in sexual activity, according to the report, but Feather told police that Davison was the aggressor and that he was “dangerous.” Neither party pursued charges and police dropped the matter. 

Reached Wednesday, Davison confirmed the outlines of that incident. He said that he was not related to — nor had he ever met — Brunell. Two family members of Davison’s confirmed that he is not related to Brunell. 

A person connected by family to Brunell confirmed that he has a son named Zane with a different surname. That person declined to speak on the record. 

Elements of an affidavit written last week by Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Isaac Merriam allude to potential confusion between Brunell and Feather. 

Immediately after Feather was stabbed to death on the side of a Morristown road, Merriam wrote, Brunell called a friend of Feather’s, Eliza Curtis, from Feather’s phone. According to police, Brunell told Curtis that he had killed Feather after Feather “had come on to me and was going crazy.” Brunell allegedly said he had rejected the advance because “I wasn’t gay.” 

Officers noted at the time that Brunell had suffered no injuries and said there were no “indications of an altercation.”

During his conversation with Curtis, Brunell “mentioned an incident that he and Fern had just figured out,” according to Merriam’s affidavit. 

“Sometime over the last year, Fern was assaulted and choked by a male who accused Fern of turning him gay,” Curtis told police, according to the affidavit. “Seth spoke of this on the phone and stated that they figured out the assailant was his son.” Merriam wrote that Curtis “suspected this assault on Fern took place in Morristown, VT.”

At the time of Brunell’s arrest, he told police that he had first met Feather two days earlier while Brunell was hitchhiking. “We have been hanging out for a couple of days,” Brunell said, according to the affidavit. 

Earlier that morning, before Feather’s death, Brunell had told two deputy sheriffs who checked on him and Feather in a parking lot “that he had recently received a citation by the Vermont State Police for stealing a vehicle to drive himself to the State Hospital.”

Brunell’s attorney, David Sleigh, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday and declined to comment Wednesday. 

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