By MIKE DONOGHUE
Vermont News First
BURLINGTON, Vt. — A federal court jury in Burlington has declared a northern New Hampshire man not guilty for a felony charge of assaulting and injuring a substitute mail carrier as he made his rounds in the Northeast Kingdom a year ago.
Trevor Frizzell, 24, of Stratford, N.H., shook hands with his two defense lawyers and was embraced by his parents after the jury verdict was announced shortly after 4 p.m. Friday afternoon.
He had maintained he was acting in self-defense. Frizzell said fill-in postal worker Paul G. Burch, 66, had attacked him while he was next to a cluster of mailboxes at Maidstone Lake Road, off Vermont 102 in the town of Brunswick about 3:15 p.m. Oct. 25, 2022. Burch has since been fired for unrelated reasons, testimony showed.
“I’m happy to go home and be able to go back to work,” Frizzell told a reporter after the 5-day trial. If convicted, he could have faced up to a 20-year prison sentence.
Frizzell’s legal problems are not fully over. He has pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in Guildhall to felony charges of assault and robbery and aggravated assault for the same incident. However Essex County State’s Attorney Vince Illuzzi, who had filed his charges first, said Friday evening he plans to look at the federal court records, including the trial transcript, to determine his next step.
The federal prosecution appeared to be an uphill battle from the start, in part because Burch, the fill-in postal delivery person, had told at least 5 versions about the confrontation between the two men, lawyers had noted during the trial.
Assistant Federal Defenders Steven Barth and Sara Puls hammered away at Burch’s multiple stories and his employment problems with the post office, including being fired twice in just over a year. The first time came after 3 ½ days at one job, they said. They contrasted Burch to Frizzell — a hard-working, young man who only wanted to collect his signature-required package and go home on the day of the incident.
They also focused on Frizzell insisting he was only reacting to Burch inappropriately putting his hands on their client from behind. Frizzell testified he spun around and threw one punch that dropped Burch to the ground.
“It was all in one fluid motion,” Frizzell had told the jury.
The prosecution maintained more than one punch would hurt the self-defense claim.
It was never made clear whether the punch or hitting his head on the ground knocked him out.
Barth said the verdict was a team effort, but also noted the extra effort of the office investigator Kevin Ridgley for his work in Essex County. Barth said it was the right verdict.
The defendant’s parents, Vincent Frizzell and Terry Kenney, have stood by their son and traveled each day to Burlington – a two-hour plus trip one-way — to be at the trial. The defendant’s father said he had suggested to his son to take a plea to end the ordeal, but he said Trevor Frizzell was insistent on fighting the charge. Trevor Frizzell, who said he loves to hunt and fish, would have lost his right to hunt, if he became a convicted felon.
After the verdict was delivered, Senior Federal Judge William K. Sessions III asked prosecutors Corinne Smith and Wendy Fuller if they wanted the jurors polled, but they agreed to pass. The longtime judge praised the lawyers on both sides for a “very, very well-tried case.”
Sessions told Frizzell he was free to leave the courthouse. He has been in custody since mid-September for violating his release conditions imposed by the court when he was arraigned Jan. 11. The petition claimed he had smoked marijuana and had threatened to fatally shoot two people, court records show.
The jurors deliberated for about four hours Thursday night and they returned for 9 a.m. Friday. About 1 p.m. they indicated they wanted Frizzell’s testimony re-read. The court stenographer prepared a transcript for the lawyers and judge to review before the jury was called back into the courtroom. A deputy court clerk and Judge Sessions law clerk then read the transcript to the 8 women and 4 men on the jury.
The jurors went back into deliberation at 2:45 p.m. and about an hour later they sent word they had a verdict. It was after 4 p.m. before everybody could be gathered back in the courtroom for the verdict.
Testimony during the trial indicated the following: Burch had tried to deliver a package to Frizzell’s home on U.S. 3 in Strafford, N.H. during the noon hour on a Tuesday, but he was not home. Burch left a pink postal slip indicating Frizzell could collect his package at the post office the next day.
Frizzell got home after 2:30 p.m. saw the notice and headed to the post office to try to claim the package. Bethany MacDonald, a postal worker, attempted to find the package, but soon determined it was still with Burch on his route. The post office was closing at 3 p.m. and Burch would not be back until 4 p.m. Frizzell admitted he was annoyed about the limited hours at the post office because he normally worked long days and being single, did not have somebody that could sign for the package.
Frizzell left, but quickly returned and asked if it was possible for him to somehow connect with Burch on his route and MacDonald agreed to call him. The three of them worked out a plan for Frizzell and Burch, who said he was on Maidstone Lake Road, to connect on the route.
Frizzell said he arrived about seven minutes later at the Maidstone Lake site in Brunswick and spotted Burch’s Jeep with an orange light on top and him next to the long cluster of mail boxes.
The agreement to hand off the package then went sideways. Frizzell said he greeted Burch and said he was there to collect his package that had been mentioned on the phone and Burch said he should use his key to his box. Frizzell repeated he was there for his package and Burch insisted he use his key. A flustered Frizzell testified that he had had a long day and Burch said he also had a long day.
Frizzell said he looked into the Jeep, which had its modified door swung completely open, and saw his package with his name in bold letters on the center console. As Frizzell went to reach for the package, Burch reportedly used both hands to grab Frizzell on both shoulders and tried to back him away from the Jeep.
Frizzell said he thought it was inappropriate for Burch to have touched him and said, “You put your hands on me.” Frizzell maintained he spun around and delivered one punch to the face.
The prosecution attempted to show there was a short break between the touching and when the punch was thrown. They used a written statement that Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby got on the side of the road three days after the incident. Frizzell testified that not every point of the incident was included in the 1 ½ -page hand printed statement.
Because there were no independent eyewitnesses to the incident, the prosecution tried to rely on the medical report from the emergency room doctor that treated Burch when Sheriff Colby brought him to Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in nearby Colebrook, N.H.
Dr. Alexis Cochran testified she believed Burch was struck more than once. She reported she thought he had “multiple areas of impact.” She said the injuries included a split lip, an abrasion on the right side of his nose and swelling of both cheeks. A few days later he had a black eye.
She also reported Burch had a concussion and a sore neck. The theory is those happened due to hitting the ground after he was punched.
The defense countered with Dr. Kathleen R. McCubbin, a chief deputy medical examiner in Vermont, who testified that a one-punch theory was plausible based on the 23 pages of medical reports and photographs she reviewed in the case. She did acknowledge more than one punch might have been thrown, but one punch could have caused all the facial injuries sustained.
Colby, the primary investigator in the case, testified that he has been trained in Traumatic Brain Injuries, but nobody asked him about his professional experience assessing injuries.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Office helped secure the federal indictment in December 2022.