By MIKE DONOGHUE
Vermont News First
BURLINGTON, Vt. — A jury has been selected in U.S. District Court in Burlington to hear evidence this week against a northern New Hampshire man accused of assaulting and knocking out a U.S. Postal delivery worker in Essex County a year ago.
Trevor Frizzell, 24, has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of assaulting substitute postal worker Paul Burch, 66, as he made his official rounds in the town of Brunswick in the Northeast Kingdom on the afternoon of Oct. 25, 2022.
The jurors got to hear from the first two witnesses on Monday afternoon. Testimony is scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. today when Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby, the lead investigator in the criminal case, is expected to take the stand.
Burch, who has since been fired by the postal service for unrelated issues, and a medical doctor, who treated him, also are expected to testify, according to lawyers in the case.
Assistant Federal Defender Steven Barth said the criminal case centers on self-defense: Frizzell, who has used addresses in both Colebrook, N.H. and Stratford, N.H. during the past year, was defending himself after he was improperly grabbed from behind by Burch.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Corinne Smith has maintained Burch was attempting to protect the mail as required by law. Smith said it was improper for somebody to reach into the Jeep for one of their packages.
The government said Frizzell reached in through an open Jeep door to retrieve a package addressed to him that had been placed on the center console by Burch.
It is what happened in the next few minutes that the jury will need to sort out.
Barth said when Frizzell was grabbed from behind around the upper chest near the neckline his client reacted out of shock and fear. He spun to get away and threw one punch. It was unclear if the punch or hitting the ground knocked out Burch, who ended up with a concussion and later was taken to the nearby hospital by Sheriff Colby.
Barth said Frizzell had never met the substitute carrier before.
He said Frizzell was a hard-working young man, who labored in construction, welding and landscaping 6 days a week and sometimes 7.
Brenda McKenzie, who came across the scuffle on Maidstone Lake Road in Brunswick, and Bethany MacDonald, who worked at the U.S. Post Office in North Stratford, N.H. were the lone witnesses late Monday afternoon.
During opening statements, both sides acknowledged that the incident centers on a signature-required package being delivered to Frizzell, but he was not home. He brought the postal notice that was left by Burch to the post office that afternoon in the hopes of retrieving his brick-sized package.
MacDonald told him Burch still had the package in his Jeep and was making his rounds, they said. Frizzell left for a minute, but returned to the post office to see if he could connect on the road with Burch. MacDonald called Burch, who agreed Frizzell could meet him as he tried to finish the route. She directed him to the route.
As court closed Monday, MacDonald testified she has since learned Burch has claimed there was no agreement by him to connect on his route with Frizzell. Under questioning from Assistant Federal Defender Sara M. Puls, MacDonald said that surprised her. She also admitted she had concerns about Burch and his cognitive issues.
She insisted there was no confusion on her part that the plan between her and Burch during the phone call was that Frizzell would be meeting with him in a few minutes on the road in Brunswick.
MacDonald said Frizzell had been respectful and composed while at the post office, but annoyed that it closed at 3 p.m. and Burch was not due back until 4 p.m. She said she was very surprised to learn what happened on the road.
McKenzie was the first witness to the stand and she explained she was turning off Vermont 102 onto Maidstone Lake Road when she saw men in an active fight.
However on cross examination by Barth, McKenzie said she first noticed Burch on the ground and never saw him get punched.
McKenzie, who said she knew Frizzell from teaching him art in middle school, said he was respectful. He told Burch he never wanted to hit him and offered to help him up, but the carrier declined.
When questioned on direct examination by Smith, McKenzie testified as she pulled up at the scene Frizzell told her to move along and there was nothing to concern her. He then recognized him as his former teacher.
She asked what happened and Frizzell said he was retrieving a package
McKenzie said while still sitting in her car she asked Frizzell if he planned to hit him again and whether she could attend to Burch.
He said he wasn’t going to touch Burch and she was free to assist him.
McKenzie said she put his head on her knee and began to rub his temples and Burch became conscious again.
She said Burch then insisted that Frizzell sign for the package. She did not think that was wise to say and he also insisted that he had to finish his route. She encouraged him to find a replacement.
She said as Frizzell left, he told Burch, “Have a nice rest of your day.”
A jury of nine women and five men was selected. Two are alternates and won’t be part of the verdict except if one of the regulars is dismissed.
More than two dozen potential jurors were excused by the court and the lawyers from the first floor courtroom. Two of them were sons of judges. One was the son of longtime State Court Judge Edward J. Costello, who has the courthouse complex in Burlington named for him. The other was the son of former Federal Judge Albert W. Coffrin, whose large portrait graces a wall in the main courtroom on the fifth floor. A third person excused was a former postal carrier who said he was sure he could be fair, but also said if he was the defense he would send him on his way.
Frizzell also faces some legal issues in state court. Essex County States Attorney Vince Illuzzi initially charged Frizzell with two felonies: aggravated assault and assault and robbery. Frizzell pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in Guildhall and those cases are still pending.