Crime and Justice

‘Almost like a Greek tragedy unfolding’: Mother and daughter sentenced in Vermont slaying

Carmen Guttilla, left, and Erika Guttilla. Photos courtesy of Vermont State Police

Four years after their arrests, a Highgate mother and daughter were each sentenced Friday to serve at least 10 years in prison in the shooting death of 25-year-old Troy Ford, whose body was stashed on the porch of the family’s home for three weeks before being dumped in nearby woods.  

“It’s hard to come to grips with the tragedy that has occurred here,” Franklin County Superior Court Judge Martin Maley said in sentencing Carmen Guttilla and her daughter, Erika Guttilla.  

“It’s almost like a Greek tragedy unfolding,” the judge said. “However, there aren’t any heroic figures in this tragedy.”

In court testimony, Ford was described as the family’s drug dealer who took control of the family’s home and terrorized its occupants before Erika Guttilla shot him in the head while he slept.

Erika Guttilla, 35, was initially charged with first-degree murder in Ford’s death, while her mother, Carmen Guttilla, 64, faced charges of aiding in the commission of first-degree murder.

Both women avoided a jury trial when they pleaded guilty Thursday to reduced charges of second-degree murder. The details of the shooting then played out over two days of graphic pre-sentencing testimony in Franklin County Superior criminal court in St. Albans.

Maley, the judge, took a roughly 15-minute break Friday afternoon after the testimony and arguments were complete.

He returned to the courtroom and sentenced both Erika and Carmen Guttilla to 20 years to life in prison, suspending all but 10 years for each. As a result, they will each need to serve at least 10 years of that sentence behind bars. The two defendants will get credit for time they have served since they were arrested and jailed in May 2018.

“After considering all the evidence here, the court does see Erika and Carmen, that their role in this is essentially the same,” Maley said. “Carmen’s providing the gun to Erika … encouraging her, is in the eyes of the law the same as committing the act itself.”  

The judge also said that, while the Guttillas were able to testify how Ford had “terrorized” their home as an “unwelcome” guest, Ford did not get the opportunity to address the allegations against him. 

“There is no one here to speak for Mr. Ford,” Maley said. “He has lost the ability, of course, to carry on with his life, but also to have his day in court.”

The judge added, “It’s a difficult, difficult case. There are no winners here. There are absolutely losers in this.”

‘It had to stop’

Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie, a prosecutor in the case, said Erika Guttilla shot Ford in the head as he slept. Her mother, Carmen Guttilla, provided the handgun to carry out the shooting, Lavoie said.

The mother also helped hide Ford’s body, leaving it wrapped in a carpet and stored in a garbage container on a back porch of the family home for several weeks before eventually being moved to nearby woods.

Lavoie said Carmen and Erika Guttilla decided Ford “had to go,” but the prosecutor maintained they had options other than murder. Lavoie repeatedly asked Erika Guttilla why she did not call police or summon help from friends when the situation in the home worsened. 

Erika Guttilla — who testified that Ford had raped her and subjected her to repeated physical abuse, including having a liquor bottle smashed over her head — replied, “Up to that point, he had done a lot of horrible things that I did not call the police for.” 

She testified that her parents at one point had stayed at a local hotel to avoid sharing their home with Ford, who had lived with the family for more than a year.

She detailed the events that she said led to the shooting, describing how she and her parents were “hanging out” in her mother’s liquor store in the hours leading up to the shooting. She said she had stopped using heroin at the time, but used “a little bit of crack” cocaine.

“It was nice to just hang out,” she said. But when they arrived home after midnight, she described a drunken Ford who was in a rage, “screaming, pounding walls.”

Ford eventually went to sleep, she said, but she feared going downstairs by herself, so she grabbed her mother’s gun from the dresser. Tearfully, she told of going through the “what ifs” that might happen if Ford were to remain in the home, and at that moment, she said, she decided to shoot Ford as he slept.

“I can’t keep living like this in my house,” she recalled thinking. “It had to stop.”

Defense attorneys for the women portrayed a family whose lives spun out of control after a manipulative and violent Ford, described as a drug dealer who supplied heroin to members of the family, took control of their home.

Dr. Thomas Powell, a forensic psychologist called by Carmen Guttilla’s defense lawyer, portrayed her as a successful business owner who worked to keep her family together before drug use consumed them.

“She had a successful life going before the addiction hit,” Powell said of the mother, who had “grown wary” of having Ford in their lives over the course of two years.

“The demands he was placing on the family were overwhelming,” Powell said. “It was a sense that things got out of control; it was like trying to ride a tidal wave.”

Describing the “disorientation” and “paralysis” that surrounded Carmen Guttilla’s daily life, Powell added, “I think she felt like a hostage in her own house.”

Earlier testimony indicated her husband’s injury led to his reliance on heroin, and ultimately left them vulnerable to Ford’s demands.

Michael Guttilla, Erika Guttilla’s father and Carmen Guttilla’s husband, testified that Ford provided heroin to him and other family members. Eventually, Michael Guttilla said, Ford began living in the home. 

“So he provided you guys with drugs?” asked David Sleigh, Carmen’s defense attorney.  

“When you need a drug and somebody has it, you give in,” Michael Guttilla replied. 

At the house, Michael Guttilla said, Ford acted like a “control freak” and a “tyrant.” 

Lavoie pressed Michael Guttilla on why he didn’t just call the police if Ford was such a problem in the home. Michael Guttilla said he feared Ford would retaliate against him if he knew he had called police. 

‘That’s no legal excuse’

Corey Cassani, Erika’s boyfriend at the time, helped Erika and Carmen Guttilla move Ford’s body from the porch to the nearby woods, according to police affidavits. There, they left the body wrapped in a sheet and placed tree branches over it, court filings indicated.

Cassani and Erika and Carmen Guttilla were all arrested in May 2018, shortly after a person walking in the woods found the body. Police said the fatal shooting had occurred “several months prior.”

Cassani previously reached a plea deal with prosecutors and was sentenced in November 2019 to three to seven years in prison on a felony charge of being an accessory after the fact.

Attorneys for Carmen and Erika Guttilla had asked the judge Friday to impose a sentence of 20 years to life for each of their clients, all suspended except the four years they have served in prison.

Robert Katims, Erika Guttilla’s attorney, said that his client, along with her mother, were held captive in their own home by a person who had assaulted, threatened and terrorized them. 

Katims added that Erika Guttilla “subjectively believed” she had no other viable option other than shooting and killing Ford.

“She now understands that’s no legal excuse,” he said. “She’s accepted responsibility.” 

Sleigh, Carmen Guttilla’s lawyer, reiterated that the Guttilla family feared Ford and his “occupation” of their home.

“At the time of Mr. Ford’s shooting, Carmen was no longer the strong, independent matriarch who had raised a family, maintained a career and bought a business,” Sleigh said. “She was someone who was broke, psychologically paralyzed, dissociated and overwhelmed.”   

Lavoie, the prosecutor, called on Maley to sentence both defendants to 20 years to life behind bars.  

“I think this last day and a half has been the subsequent attack of Mr. Ford that follows the attack that resulted in his death,” Lavoie told the judge. “Mr. Ford is not here to defend himself against those allegations and his family would like you to know he was a precious human being.” 

Andre Ford, Troy Ford’s father, joined the hearing by video, telling the judge that he wanted both Erika and Carmen Guttilla sentenced to the fullest extent of the law, which would have been life behind bars.

Raquel Ford, Troy Ford’s sister, also spoke, agreeing with her father in calling for the harshest sentence possible for Erika and Carmen Guttilla. 

Both said that, if members of the Guttilla family had wanted Troy Ford out of the residence, they could have taken other steps rather than killing him.

“Why didn’t they call the police to have him removed instead of taking his life away from him?” Andre Ford asked.

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