Witness: Gunshots heard over phone
By Alan J. Keays
Herald Staff | May 08,2007
A photo from Aaron Congdon's MySpace page with a gun rack on the left side of the photo.
Aaron Congdon, 16, was chatting over the phone with one of his teenage friends last week when he paused and put down the phone. With the connection still open, the friend overheard "two large bangs" and "what sounded like glass breaking," according to court records.
Then Congdon returned to the phone.
"I did it," Congdon said, according to the friend's statement to police.
The bangs came toward the end of a telephone conversation Thursday between Congdon, of Chittenden, and Edward Walker, 17, in which Congdon talked about killing his father and about all the weapons Congdon had in his home, according to the statement.
After coming back to the phone, Congdon described to his friend how he fatally shot his father, Bernard Congdon Jr., 53, in the face, then fired on and killed one of the family dogs, according to a police affidavit filed in Rutland District Court.
Vermont State Police detectives said Aaron Congdon confessed over the weekend to killing his father, a Chittenden Select Board member. Police also said the shooting had been planned.
"Congdon replied if you are asking if this is premeditated, then the answer is yes," according to the affidavit. "Congdon then stated he has thought about killing his father for some time."
Congdon appeared Monday in Rutland District Court, wearing what appeared to be hospital clothing — a loose-fitting white shirt, baggy light-blue pants and black flip flops on his feet. Investigators said the clothes Congdon was wearing at the time of his arrest were seized as part of the investigation.
Thin and standing about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Congdon shuffled into court with his wrists and ankles in shackles. He sat still at the defense table and looked down for most of his brief court appearance. About a dozen family members and friends attended the hearing, most declining comment as they left the courtroom.
Congdon did not speak during the hearing. His eyes appeared to well up with tears as Joyce Brenner, a public defender representing Congdon, entered an innocent plea on his behalf to first-degree murder.
Judge William Cohen set bail at $500,000 and Rutland County Sheriff Steven Benard led Congdon away to a holding cell in the basement of the courtroom. Later he was taken to the Rutland jail.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Congdon could spend the rest of his life behind bars without the chance for parole.
"It's a crying shame what happened," said David Rider, 45, of Rutland, who attended the hearing. Rider said his stepson, Walker, was a friend of Congdon's.
At one point Congdon attended Rutland High School. School officials would not say Monday if he was still enrolled as a student.
Rider said Congdon "wasn't in school" at the time of his father's death. "He was taken out because of a problem that he had," Rider said, declining to elaborate.
Rider said Congdon had talked of "mental abuse" he suffered at the hands of his father.
"I wish he would have came to us earlier for help," Rider said.
One Chittenden resident said the father and son often were at odds, and that following one particularly vehement disagreement, Aaron Congdon came to live at his house for two weeks.
Aaron Congdon and his father were together a week ago, when the son was arraigned in Rutland District Court on a misdemeanor charge of retail theft. Police say he tried to steal cough medicine from Price Chopper in downtown Rutland.
The case was referred to a court diversion program for first-time offenders. As part of diversion, a person charged with a nonviolent crime typically has to complete a contract that involves counseling, community service and acknowledging the crime.
If the offender successfully completes the program, the crime can be wiped from his or her record.
Bernard Congdon appeared hopeful when he was called to the police station to pick up his son following the retail theft charge, according to court records.
"I met with Mr. Congdon and explained the situation to him," Rutland City Police Officer Kenneth Mosher wrote in an affidavit. "Mr. Congdon stated that he was glad that the incident had taken place, since he believes his son has a drug problem and that the courts may help him to force his son into a drug treatment program."
His father's concerns about drug use, and Aaron Congdon's recent breakup with a girlfriend, also may have also have been factors in the shooting.
Last month, the mother of a teenage girl who had been dating Congdon obtained a restraining order that required him to stay at least 500 feet away from the girl.
The mother wrote in the restraining order application that Congdon had become "emotionally unstable and emotionally cruel" to her daughter.
She said school officials told her Congdon had sent her daughter an "extremely threatening" e-mail message. The e-mail is attached to the restraining order application, which was approved by the judge.
In the lengthy, April 1 e-mail — laced with profanity, misspellings and grammatical errors — Congdon wrote about his drug use and told the girl to stop call calling him a "coke head."
"If you dont you will get your throat slit, I don't do coke anymore," the e-mail stated. "I am smarter now than ever before, and I am smart enough to not overdose on anything. I took 5 strips of acid and it didn't even affect me."
In addition, in the e-mail, Congdon wrote, "I also think I'm going clinically insane. I think so much that I zone out all the time ,,, its very hard to explain."
Congdon also wrote that if the girl did anything to hurt him, he would do something to hurt her.
"Also, remember the things you do that you know I will hate, doesn't bother me anymore," the e-mail stated. "I am to powerful to let anything bother me know, alot has changed with me."
Police said they became aware of the shooting in Chittenden around 6 p.m. Saturday when a woman called police, reporting that she was trying to find her friend, Bernard Congdon.
The woman told police when she arrived at his home at 139 Powerhouse Road she saw through a window that there appeared to be a dead dog inside the doorway.
The woman said she called 911. She also told State Police that Congdon's vehicle, a green 2002 Ford Explorer, was missing from the residence.
Two troopers arrived and looked through a window and could see Congdon's body lying on the kitchen floor, killed by what appeared to be a gunshot wound near the left eye.
Next to his body was a large amount of blood and a dead dog, the affidavit stated. Nobody else was in the home. Aaron Congdon's mother, Pamela L. Hesse, died in a motorcycle accident Aug. 9, 2005. Congdon's parents divorced about eight years ago.
Police said they also noticed a trail of blood leading to the basement from the living room area; in the basement police found another dead dog.
Police located Congdon's Ford Explorer in a parking lot at Howe Center off Strongs Avenue. They found Aaron Congdon a short distance away at a friend's home on Royce Street. It had been two days since his father was killed.
Police said at the home on Royce Street, they told Aaron Congdon there had been a death in his family.
"Congdon replied, it's my father I knew it," State Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Elliott wrote in an affidavit. "Detectives then told Congdon that his father was dead. Congdon inquired as to who killed his father. At no time during the detective's conversation with Congdon did he ask how his father had died."
Another State Police detective asked the teenager about the pets at the home, "to which Congdon spoke of two dogs in the past tense," the affidavit stated.
In an interview Sunday, Aaron Congdon admitted shooting his father in the face with a 30-30 rifle while they were standing in the kitchen, Elliott wrote. The 17 year old also said he shot both dogs with a .357 revolver, Elliott wrote.
"After his father lay dead on the kitchen floor Aaron Congdon stated that he searched his father's pocket for a car key," the affidavit stated. "Not finding any, he removed a brown leather wallet from the left rear pants pocket."
The teenager told police that after shooting his father, he drove the Ford Explorer from Chittenden to Rutland. On Saturday, he and his friend, Walker, drove to Notch Road in Mendon where Aaron Congdon threw away the guns. Then Congdon drove back to Rutland and parked the vehicle at Howe Center, the affidavit stated.
Police received a phone call Sunday from a landowner on Notch Road who reported finding a rifle and pistol. State Police took both firearms to the Vermont Crime Lab in Waterbury for examination.
Investigators said spoke to a teenage girl, identified in court records only as "TB." The girl told police she had spoken with Walker between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday, and later met with Congdon and Walker in Rutland.
"In a conversation with Congdon he tells her that he shot his father in the head, and shot his two dogs," the affidavit stated. "Juvenile TB also had in her possession a .357 magnum shell casing that was given to her by Congdon. Congdon also told her that the casing was used to shoot an animal."
Brenner, Congdon's public defender, and Rutland County State's Attorney James Mongeon, the prosecutor, both declined comment on the case Monday. They also refused to say if they'd identified a motive for the shooting.
Mongeon said Walker, the friend who was on the phone with Congdon and heard the two loud bangs, is being treated as a witness and is unlikely to be charged. The teenage girl also is unlikely to be charged, he said.
"Our information is that Mr. Congdon acted alone," the prosecutor said. "Mr. Walker has been cooperative."
Bernard Congdon, a lifelong Chittenden resident and a self-employed contractor, was well known in town, serving on the Select Board of this small Rutland County community of 1,182 people, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Friends and neighbors of Congdon have described him as easygoing and pleasant.
Congdon won a seat on the Select Board about five years ago, saying at the time he had no agenda when it came to town issues.
"I take a lot of pride in how the town is operated and what goes on," he said as he campaigned. "I feel like I have something to offer."
Contact Alan J. Keays at firstname.lastname@example.org.