Grieving family demands justice in deadly shooting; police say juvenile pulled the trigger

How the suspect’s age could complicate the case going forward.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 5:58 PM EDT
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WALTHAM, Vt. (WCAX) - Police say they know who shot and killed a woman in Waltham on Friday, but no charges have been filed in the case. That’s in part because the suspect is a juvenile. Our Ike Bendavid spoke with a legal expert about what that means for the case going forward. He also spoke with the victim’s family, who wants justice for Michelle Kilbreth.

“I never got to say goodbye,” Roxanne Bigelow said.

Surrounded by family, Bigelow gets emotional talking about her daughter, Michelle Kilbreth, 48, who was shot to death on Friday.

“She was the type of person that did everything for everybody,” Bigelow said.

Vermont state police say it started when Kilbreth intervened in a dispute in her Waltham neighborhood and ended up in a physical altercation with another woman.

“We know that Ms. Kilbreth did have a handgun in her possession,” Vt. State Police Maj. Dan Trudeau said. “But at some point, that gun wound up on the ground.”

That’s when police say a juvenile picked up the gun and shot Kilbreth multiple times. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. However, police have not made an arrest and are not releasing the juvenile’s name or age.

“We are not going to identify the juvenile involved due to his age. At this point, there is nobody in custody, nobody has been charged, further investigation is ongoing,” Trudeau said.

Legal expert Jerry O’Neill says it can get complicated when a juvenile is in legal trouble. Usually, those cases go to family court but in extreme cases, including homicides, people under 18 can be charged as adults.

“It’s a lot of interplay of the different statutes, the particular offense the person is charged with and how the judge thinks is the best place to put that particular case,” O’Neill said.

If a case ends up in family court, proceedings are confidential and defendants do not face jail.

“Maybe you know if the person was originally charged as an adult you will know who it is and all the information about them, but once it goes to juvenile court, that’s the end of it. You don’t know anything more,” O’Neill said.

With no charges and the investigation still underway, the shooter is currently free.

And as a memorial sits outside the house, the family says they want justice.

“What I want done is I want justice for her. I think it’s so unfair that they are out, they are free to drive, come in and out of here, and my daughter’s being cremated today,” Bigelow said.

I reached out to Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos who said she couldn’t comment on the case, but she did share a statement that echoes what legal expert Jerry O’Neill told me about the complex nature of a homicide involving a minor. In an email, she wrote, “The decision on how to charge or prosecute a case such as this is based on multiple factors and must follow the complex Vermont laws related to juveniles, youthful offenders and the interplay with adult criminal court... Our office partners with Vermont State Police, DCF, victims and their families, and other community organizations to make these difficult charging decisions, for which there is no set formula.”

So, the decision about charges in this case is not just about the evidence or justice for the victim, but also about what’s the right way to deal with an underage offender.

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